Mars Attacks! Review
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 46%
My rating: Rental
Whenever I am asked what my guilty pleasure is, apart from a strange liking of folk guitar, this film always pops up. It is terrible. It took 100 million to put it out there and it made 101 million. It’s jaw droppingly bad. Yet for some reason this movie is something you can lie back, disconnect your jaw, and dribble along to. It’s so bad it’s good. Except it’s not.
Martians have come to earth and the U.S President (Jack Nicholson) and his First Lady (Glenn Close) want to meet them. The Martians fake peaceful intentions, and proceed to vaporize every person at their welcome party. This begins a war between earth and Martians, filled with plenty of invasion skits and deaths. The movie features an overwhelming number of characters, a U.S. Press Secretary (Martin Short), a trailer-park family (Lukas Haas and Sylvia Sidney), Robert De Niro as someone, Sarah Jessica Parker as some TV presenter, Michael J. Fox as her partner, Pierce Brosnan as some scientist. The list of A-celebs is incredible, but it really doesn’t help very much.
I think the problem here is a case of not slapping Tim enough. The whole production stinks of the pet project. That sort of I-Can’t-Cut-This problem like Goblet of Fire that degrades the whole piece. Apparently, Jonathan Gems had to slice Burton’s 60 leading characters down to a still bloated 23, a number which is cheeky in itself. When you compare it with American Beauty (which happened to have Bening at her best and held 10 peoples individual storylines) it’s incredible that they got away with it. There were 12 drafts on this script and none of them managed to cut it down to a good science fiction spoof.
The movie is a homage to all those 1950s alien invasion movies. The multi-rolled Jack Nicholson betrays this film’s desperation to be a modern Dr. Strangelove. It’s Invaders from Mars, it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it’s War of the Worlds. It even manages to be like Independence Day despite being written before. It is all of these things, and yet it can’t pull the jokes off. Maybe it needed Will Ferrell in a Fez or Heather Graham in tight navy blue hot pants.
The strange thing is the amount of good and hard work that went into such a resounding flop. Take the aliens. They were all animated using ILM computer imagery and it is yet another case of old graphics being better than today. Much like Jurassic Park (1993) you look at these aliens and it takes a few internet re-checks to accept they are computer animated. For 1996 it really is something and only recently has the colour haziness of old imagery began to show. But what else do you expect from ILM?
But none of it seems to pay off, just like the stars. There are more than two dozen then-popular names attached to this film and none of them seem to have brought with it any credibility. Jack Nicholson, who I have only enjoyed in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, brings nothing but a sort of drunken face to the proceedings, former Bond Brosnan has dropped his standards and gone after Sarah Jessica Parker of all women, Annette Bening is as single toned as a child’s drawing. It just goes on.
Probably the best performance, apart from a biased two week childhood infatuation with Natalie Portman, is Martin Short who is a nicely conveyed, slimy, sex addict who hires the breasticular wares of none other than Tim Burton’s then-partner, Lisa Marie (Vampira in Ed Wood). I wonder if that’s when the couple started having arguments?
It never seems to find its ground. If you’re going ridiculous you go all out, making your protagonist have to shag a woman in public to keep his heart beating is good, or if you’re doing a good comedy you have a great gag at the end, like Klaatu reading the Gettysburg Address (although this wasn’t an intended joke). The film drops into a strange mediocrity that you don’t expect from Tim Burton. Like him or not, he is either all the way crap (Planet of the Apes) or all the way good (Corpse Bride).
Probably the best bit of this movie is the turn. The way they try and defeat the Martians. If by the point you reach this you aren’t just laughing from the sheer bad, then you’ve probably switched it off half an hour ago. The movie does one final sign off gag which, like nuking the fridge, you either accept or you’re burning the celluloid already.
So, why do I like this movie? Well, really, I don’t. It takes brainless to the point where you start worrying about the people attached, like if they read the script. But it has great selling points. It’s a spoof; it’s not trying to be good. It has aliens that look like ex-girlfriends. It is an embarrassment to all stars, something to bring up at conventions to make them sweat. And it has Jack Black dying from skeleton exposing alien laser fire and that really is a beautiful dream come true. In fact this is the perfect deleted scene from Tropic Thunder. This is the moment Black and Stiller get ready to congratulate themselves and aliens arrive and char them to their skeletons for every horrific movie they have made.
But alas, Jack Black death doesn’t happen in every movie and they are still good, so this takes firm place in the bad territory. This is a movie to watch with friends wanting to see a ridiculous movie. Maybe if you find it in a bargain bin it may be worth £1. This is the definition of a rental, a film which, if you don’t pay much to see it, you might enjoy. But really, shame on me for owning the video tape. The one with the free t-shirt.