Red Planet

Nov 15, 2000 at 12:00 am

Sci-fi’s groundbreaking flicks of the last 30-odd years are Xeroxed, cut and pasted like an anonymous hostage note and ransomed as The Red Planet. Between the lines, between the scenes, the message reads: Hollywood, we have a problem.

Writer Chuck Pfarrer (Virus) shoplifts bits and pieces from the bargain table of the science-fiction surplus store and Frankensteins them into his story. The voracious human rat race has finally chewed through the last of the world’s resources like a biblical plague of locusts laying the Earth to toxic waste. The next stone from the Sun, Mars, is the next course on the menu. Mankind prepares to take flight, sending the Mars Terraforming Project to fabricate greener pastures on the red planet. But something goes wrong. Commander Kate Bowman (The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss) is dispatched with a five-man crew on a star-crossed troubleshooting mission.

Red Planet seems ill-designed to slingshot off the coattails of this summer’s Mission to Mars. Both loot the treasury of modern science-fiction film. Mission artfully lifts some of its concept and look from 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Abyss and populates its story with mostly three-dimensional characters that we can care about, that are involved in adult relationships. Planet smash-and-grabs from the Alien and the Terminator movies, two-dimensionally counterfeits aspects of their characters, and sets them up in an adventurous puppet show that generates as much sympathy as the red-shirted expendable security officers of “Star Trek.” This Planet lacks the gravity of Mission.

The only highlight is the computer-generated Autonomous Mapping Excavation and Exploration robot, AMEE. AMEE has the evil eye of 2001’s killer computer, HAL. In four-legged mode, she pounces like a mechanical Doberman, but she can rise up on her hind legs, the Terminator’s metal endoskeleton copping Bruce Lee’s famous martial arts poses of Enter the Dragon. She’s the cyberbitch from hell, perhaps the movie’s true star.

Made of surplus parts with a crew of competent actors wasted in shallow roles, Red Planet doesn’t fly. Mission status? Failure. Abort.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].