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Mission to Mars (2000) – Movie Review

Movie poster art for Mission to Mars

Directed by Brian DePalma
Written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas & Graham Yost; story by Lowell Cannon, Jim Thomas & John Thomas

Starring Gary Sinise, Connie Nielsen, Don Cheadle, Jerry O’Connell, Tim Robbins

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

Luke Graham (Cheadle) has been tapped to lead the first manned mission to Mars. His friend Woody (Robbins) is going to lead the second wave of exploration and research. Their compatriot Jim (Sinise) had to drop out of the running to be first man on Mars due to the loss of a loved one. Everything looks like it’s great for Luke and his crew, but then something goes wrong and contact with the Mars Base Camp is lost. Now the Mars 2 Mission has a different objective: rescue.

All I can really say for the film is this: they meant well. In trying to address exploration of Mars and the origin of the human species, they picked some really nice big targets to shoot for. And it looked like they had everything lined up: good FX, kick-ass cast, A-list guy handling the musical score, and what would seem on the surface to be a decent story. So why is the end result a pretty-looking piece of melodramatic tripe? Well, let’s see how it is in reality.

Good FX? Yes. Kick-ass cast? Yes, but with nothing really to do. Score? Bombastic and excessive as all hell. I’m not sure what happened, since Morricone is one of the musical grandmasters, but–we’ll let it slide this time. The story? The idea behind the story is actually pretty intriguing, the real question is did it have to be executed with such wooden and overdone dialogue? A really what-could-have-been-great scene between Robbins and Nielsen is hobbled by terrible lines that you can’t imagine anyone speaking.

I know you’re asking yourself, “Can it be that bad, Widge?” Yeah, I’m afraid so. I don’t mean to harp on the script, but damn, if it only hadn’t made itself such an easy target! It’s so uncertain of the intelligence level of its audience that it feels the need to have the actors explain everything using exposition. We can’t have the backstory of Sinise’s character told any other way but by Cheadle at the end of an evening’s barbeque party. The only two actors who come out of this thing with their pride intact are Cheadle (who is so much better than this film deserved) and Armin Mueller-Stahl, who plays the NASA mission chief. No, their dialogue isn’t any better than anyone else’s, it’s just that they somehow manage to transcend it. It’s delivered so well you can almost forget how excruciating it sounds coming out of everyone else’s mouth. But reality keeps crashing back in.

The only thing that saves the film at all are the special effects, especially the model of the galaxy you’ve already caught a glimpse of in the trailers. They’re pretty to look at, but that’s about all. It and Cheadle gain it its only half-a-cup. If you can catch it on cable, I say why not. Otherwise, I say pray for the film’s enigmatic whirlwind thing to come and put you out of your misery.

Originally posted on Ver. 3 of the site; moved to Ver. 4 (WordPress) on 6/17/07.