- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

1 and 1/2 out of four stars
TITLE: "Red Planet"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and graphic violence; fleet ing nudity and sexual allusions)
CREDITS: Directed by Antony Hoffman
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

''I really hate this planet," grumbles one of the astronauts stranded on Mars during the consistently defective course of the science-fiction thriller "Red Planet," which contrives to aggravate the shortcomings of a major springtime disappointment, "Mission to Mars."
A fair observer would have to conclude that Mars is getting a bum rap from the "Red Planet" flight team, dominated by Carrie-Anne Moss as a mission commander named Bowman.
Largely an empowerment fantasy for women in the movie business, "Red Planet" isolates Bowman in a battered spaceship that she miraculously preserves, especially from a fire that appears impossible to extinguish.
Her vigil is intercut with the desultory fates of an all-male quintet of Martian explorers impersonated by Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp and Simon Baker.
Ostensibly, they must struggle to stay alive following a crash landing. The mysterious, menacing, rust-tinted landscape proves less than hospitable, although certain panoramic prospects should be vaguely familiar to moviegoers.
The locales reflect both the Australian outback and the Jordanian desert; the latter provided "Lawrence of Arabia' with some of its scenic grandeur 40 years ago.
The word "grandeur" is unlikely to adhere to "Red Planet." Several unflattering ones would be appropriate, starting with "self-contradictory." The leading lady (for some reason, I keep wanting to call her "Carry on, Moss") is entrusted with a big hunk of prologue narration.
To summarize, we have reached 2050, and Earth is on the ropes because of those enduring, insufferable Zero Population Growth favorites, overpopulation and global warming.
Astronauts have begun a terra-forming project on Mars in hopes of making it adequate for mass colonization, but a few hitches have developed, and the hard-luck team assembled for the movie is on its way to investigate.
Bowman leaves us with the impression that the mission is mucho urgento. One reasonably could jump to the conclusion that poor earthlings are dying of suffocation by the tens of thousands every day.
As a result, it's also easy to surmise that the terra-forming project must be tragically way behind anything that resembles a timely or merciful schedule.
That surmise is confirmed by the mission, which gets disabled, for starters, by a solar flare when the Mars module is about to separate from the spaceship.
Scrub one movie mission at the half-hour mark? Of course not, but the explorers spill out on terrain that remains vastly unsuitable for habitation.
Even ingenious algae-growing experiments seem to have backfired, breeding little but pestilence in their well-meaning wake.
So when Bowman and the other survivors begin bad-mouthing Mars and craving nothing but a speedy return to Earth, one can't help thinking: Well, is that the same Earth purported to be a terminally polluted, poisoned home planet in the first reel? Presumably.
Talk about the grass always looking greener. Of course, Bowman might be looking on the sunny side of catastrophe, because the script smiles on her efforts to salvage the crew member she's kind of sweet on. A six-month return trip might be sufficient for them to decide whether the "feeling is moochul," to quote Teri Garr in "Young Frankenstein."
Should Mars be blamed for the solar flare or the nocturnal low pressure system that forces Mr. Kilmer and Mr. Sizemore to shiver in a handy cave?
Should it be blamed for the infernal gizmo that terrorizes the explorers, a mapping robot called AMEE that becomes a ruthless predator?
You can't pin that cliche on the red planet. It clearly originates in the tired imaginations of fiction writers who repeatedly resort to deathtrap robots unless discouraged in the "creative" stages by sarcastic producers.
Clearly, "Red Planet" is the antithesis of a savvy, not to mention a satisfying, science-fiction yarn. It leaves itself wide-open to mass mockery in the evaluation stage.

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