Mission to Mars

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“Mission to Mars” is like a waking coma. It’s peaceful and calm. Characters perform actions and talk — man, do they ever talk — yet everything happens so slowly, it’s like a dream. A really boring dream that you can’t wake up from. Brian De Palma, one can only assume, was asleep when he directed it. (He must certainly have fallen asleep when he watched it, if he ever did.) This is nearly 2 hours of people TALKING about going to Mars, and TALKING about rescuing a crew member who might be marooned there, and TALKING about figuring out the origins of life, and a total of about five minutes of people actually DOING something about it.

Luc (Don Cheadle, who is only an inch away from being Tim Meadows) is the only survivor of the first manned exploration of Mars. Seems the others got killed when a powerful tornado-like natural disaster occurred, in a sequence that can best be described as calmly suspenseful. No chaotic camera work or loud underscore here. Just carefully planned, precisely done mayhem.

That tone seems sort of fresh and original when it happens. But when you realize that this methodical approach to shooting action sequences is to be applied to the entire film, you quickly realize that you’re in for some serious boredom. Scenes like fixing a breach in the ship’s hull, or rescuing a crew member who has gone adrift in space — scenes that should be fast-paced and exciting — are instead as slooooow as molasses, allowing for no tension or climax whatsoever.

Anyway, back on the space station, Woody (Tim Robbins), his wife Terry (Connie Nielsen), along with Phil (Jerry O’Connell) and Jim (Gary Sinise) think Luc might still be alive, so why not take six months to zip on over to Mars and see if they can’t rescue him? And why not take us, too, and show us a bunch of zero-gravity stuff that looks like De Palma was just having fun showing off his zero-gravity special effects, with no regard to advancing the story or developing the characters? What they hey, why not?!

After several eternities, they get to Mars, sans one crew member who dies (I won’t spoil it, but count that person lucky for getting out of the movie with a shred of dignity left). Sure enough, Luc is still alive, though a bit crazy, and rather than just head back to Earth, they instead investigate a weird Mars thing that winds up teaching them where life came from, with help from a bag of M&Ms and a crying Martian.

“Mission to Mars” features very good visual effects and a gorgeous Martian landscape. It also features wooden acting by performers who seem embarrassed by their lines.

And with good reason. The movie makes its characters say melodramatic things like, “He’s the best we’ve got!” and “Let’s get out of here!” and “I’m not leaving you!” Bad dialogue is tolerable in an action movie, but in a film that is almost all dialogue with no action, it’s a nightmare. If I wanted to, I could tell you every single thing that happens in this movie in two sentences. I could also make the film about 30 minutes shorter by just cutting the crap and picking up the pace. If only De Palma had done that, he might have come up with something watchable, instead of this dull, tepid waste of time.

D (; PG, mild profanity, brief gore.)

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