a film by Brian DePalma

Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Jerry O'Connell and Connie Nielsen. Directed by Brian De Palma. Produced by Tom Jacobson. Written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Graham Yost, James E. Thomas and Nick Kazan. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

Here's the essential idea behind Mission to Mars: while investigating anomalies in the regolith, a bunch of intrepid astronauts--all of them upper middle-class American types--trigger some sort of bizarre atmospheric phenomenon that looks like a a cross between one of Frank Herbert's sandworms and the Martian equivalent of an F5 tornado. They sorta stand there with their jaws slack and try to fully appreciate how unbelievably dangerous this phenomenon is, while we sorta sit there with our jaws slack and try to fully appreciate how incalculably stupid they are for not getting the hell out of there. 

It munches them, good and proper. All but one. He's stranded on Mars, and sends a cryptic, delirious Final Report. Now astronauts Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins spring into action. They're monitoring this horrifying mission failure from the World Space Station--manned by upper-middle-class American types. They convince their boss, a mid-level NASA beaureaucrat, to authorize a rescue mission to save this one guy that's stranded on Mars. 

117 days and, presumably, several billion dollars later, Our Heroes arrive in Martian orbit where Everything Starts to Go Wrong. Of course, through ingenuity, sacrifice, and sheer upper-middle-class American grit they come up with solutions to this one-goddam-thing-after-another sequence of mishaps, most of them involving techno-babble, incredibly good karma, and high-tech chewing gum. 

Add a little alien DNA, a largely irrelevant subplot involving Gary Sinise's dead wife, enough sap to keep the IHOP in business for the next century, and some truly beautiful cgi. Stir half-heartedly, and place in an oven for, oh, about half as long as necessary. Serve while tepid. 

What's disappointing about this one is the wasted talent: we're talking Gary Sinise (in bad makeup), Tim Robbins (who actually seems relieved to die and end his involvement), and Brian De-Freakin'-Palma here. But the actors all seem vaguely embarrassed--as they should be--and I can only assume that DePalma spent most of the shoot in his trailer drinking Tang screwdrivers while he left the actual filmmaking up to a committee of cinema school sophomores, marketing executives and political correctness consultants. The filmakers, whoever they are, appear to lack a basic grasp of physics, biology, spaceflight, dramatic tension and narrative structure.

Let's face it--anybody who has high expectations of commercial sf film is just asking for it. Even so, the disparity between the talent that went into this one and the crap that came out is truly astonishing. 

Kim Stanley Robinson meets Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Sullydog does not approve. 

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