Some people don’t know when to come in from the rain and others don’t know when to come in from a dust storm on Mars.
It’s 20 years into the future and barbecue aficionados can relax: the ribs and beer are still here. A party establishes the close camaraderie of three men—Jim, Luke, and Woody (Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle, and Tim Robbins), two of whom, including Woody’s wife (Connie Nielsen), are scheduled to blast off in teams of four to Mars.
Jim was pulled out of rotation during his wife’s fatal illness. This subject is referred to so often that you just know he’s gonna get to that magma-colored planet against all odds. Sure enough, the World Space Station receives a worrisome transmission from Luke regarding a bizarre dust storm that swallowed up his team. Jim, Woody and wife and another astronaut are soon propelled toward that 100-million-mile mark: Cydonia, Mars.
Once the plot makes the switch from earth to space, the movie’s pace picks up. First, though, it has to be established that M&M’s are great playthings in zero gravity and Dr. Pepper is the best thing around for finding spaceship leaks. The in-your-face shots of Mars, while the astronauts float like a human sandwich toward the forbidding planet after the spaceship explodes, are unusual and arresting. Also, the sight of wide-eyed Luke after spending one mind-numbing year alone on Mars is a picture worth a thousand words.
One atypical aspect of this film is its positive portrayal of marriage. Jim’s deceased wife, another astronaut, is depicted as a gift from heaven, while Woody and his wife, when working in close quarters, behave like honeymooners. The latter couple ballroom dancing in zero gravity to—for lack of a better description—some really hokey glam-metal music is…interesting. In fact, most of the musical soundtrack is off-putting, fighting with rather than undergirding the scenes.
Some witticisms that come right of out of the blue will make you laugh, but there probably should have been more emphasis on the menacing, Roto-Rooter-shaped dust storm. If we could just talk Hollywood into feeding those anorexic-looking aliens….
(Rated PG: man-eating dust storm. Reviewed 3-11-2000.)
(Written by C.E. Chambers and published March 21, 2000 in The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition.)