Ghosts of Mars (2001) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence/gore, language and some drug content
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter
Review published August 31, 2001
The new rule of thumb for this millennium is that if a film takes place on Mars, stay the hell away at all costs. Not since Total Recall has there been a Hollywood expedition there with any success, and after the planetary piffle that was Mission to Mars and Red Planet, one would think our neighbor in space would be the last place one might decide to stage a film, just to avoid comparisons with what came before.
This one takes place further in the future than the other two, where a tough female cop named Melanie (Henstridge, Riders) and her squad have the unpleasant assignment of traveling to Mars and escorting back one James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube, Three Kings), the intergalactic badass who may be responsible for many a death and even more destruction. However, strange things are a-brewin' once they arrive, as they find Mars has become a virtual ghost planet...where have all the people gone? Seems they are killing themselves or each other at an alarming rate, and Desolation may prove to be the least scary person left alive.
Ghosts of Mars may get the award for evoking the most feelings of deja-vu from any release this year, and especially if you are familiar with much of John Carpenter's previous works. While the plot is so close to Pitch Black to deny influence, John dips into his own bag of tricks more often-than-not to make a virtual remake of Assault on Precinct 13 combined with Escape from New York. Like nearly all of Carpenter's films, this one suffers from over-emphasis on atmosphere and underdevelopment of characters, relying on stereotypes and rather idiotic dialogue to get points across. Pretty much all of the action is amateurish across the board, and the special effects? Well, the movie is filmed on a modest budget and nothing you see on screen will surprise you on learning that fact. Unlike the previous Mars films, this one isn't going to save itself with jaw-dropping special effects, so the work is definitely cut out in terms of potential entertainment.
However, call me crazy, but there were a number of moments when I found myself enjoying the film for all of its quirky badness. Carpenter has spent a career making interesting trash, and while Ghosts of Mars may never be confused with good, people who just flat-out enjoy b-grade slop may actually find this adventure to be the guiltiest of pleasures. Yes, it's bad, but it knows it's bad, and that is almost enough to make it good.
Almost. Definitely not something you might want to spend money on, and well, unless you watch any old piece of crap they show on the sci-fi channel, it's nothing really worth spending your valuable time on either. Ghosts of Mars is for only one kind of moviegoer: the schlock sci-fi/horror junkies. I could also add fans of John Carpenter, but I think this description covers all of them.
I suppose this brings up another rule of thumb not mentioned in the beginning of the review: if you don't love at least one John Carpenter film, stay away from this one at all costs.
©2002 Vince Leo