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IN SHORT: An awful popcorn flick. [Rated R for strong violence/gore, language and some drug content. 98 minutes]
In almost every way, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (hereinafter Ghosts) walks, talks and otherwise behaves like a Western, except that the bad guy and the good guy wind up facing a greater enemy, and not each other, at the climax of the film.
Two centuries from now, in 2176 A.D., the planet Mars is 84% inhabited by Earthlings. It is run by a Matriarchy, has a feeble atmosphere which requires breathers for the newbies, and a total population of about 640,000. Our focus is on the mining facility at Shining Canyon, where Commander Helena Bradock (Pam Grier) and Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) of the Martian Police Force are sent, to pick up and return the notorious murderer James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) for trial. When their force, which includes the timid Bashira Kincaid (Clea Duvall) and horny rookie Jericho Butler (Jason Statham), arrives in Shining Canyon, it is deserted. A search of the town discovers dozens of decapitated bodies, hanging on hooks -- Desolation's M.O. But the killer is locked in a jail cell, handcuffed to a bench.
It seems some sort of madness falls on the town, one which will be described in scientific terms by archeologist Professor Whitlock (Joanna Cassidy) as something akin to the natural organic beings of the planet trying to take back control. These "beings" have infected 200 miners, all of whom do their best to look like Alice Cooper in his prime. All of whom want to kill the Invaders from Earth.
Ghosts does have everything we expect in a John Carpenter flick. Swords and flying sawblades send body parts flying out into the night. Flat out visually rockin'. We went "oo" at all the parts we were supposed go "oo" at. We laughed at all the parts that were supposed to be funny and at more than a couple of points where we weren't supposed to. Ghosts meets all the requirements for a popcorn movie. It was fun to sit through. It was absolutely fat free and didn't require any heavy duty brain stem activity to understand what was going on. Carpenter packed his film with a babe, a rap star, some cool slice 'n' kill (or dismember) action -- this is a John Carpenter film, after all -- and signed off on a very silly flick.
We sat quietly in the last row knowing exactly why we didn't cheer like the John Carpenter fans who had packed the house did. The director was making a rare NY appearance to answer questions about the film, and made the point -- strongly -- that his name is part of the title because this is the film that he wanted to make. "If it turns out to be a piece of ****, it's my piece of..." is pretty close to an exact quote. We didn't have to write it down because we know a piece when we sit through it and we know, in no uncertain terms, the reason that what would otherwise be a tolerable rehash of a bad popcorn flick is a piece.
The reason? Ice Cube cannot act. Period. Cube's emotional range is as flat as a pancake. It kills any momentum that could have been built into the film. The four letter words liberally scattered throughout his dialog (the fans loved those) left us cold. We don't mind the words. We mind gratuitous use to provoke an audience reaction (and plead guilty to the fact that our language was just like this, back when we were twentysomething). There may be an age thing kicking in here, but a popcorn movie is a popcorn movie, and Carpenter knows how to make those in his sleep. We think he may have done this one without any REM cycles, because it is as thin on creativity as anything we've seen with his name over the title.
It's a shame, too, because Natasha Henstridge takes every silly moment in the piece and makes it work. If she were a man, we'd all be complimenting her on how big her (you-know-whats) are, 'cuz this character could have been a major body dropping stud. One point Carpenter made in the Q&A that followed our screening was that he wanted a femme star to play against the traditional "woman pushed to the brink" scenario. That being stated, Henstridge also looks dynamite in a tanktop.
uh, sorry 'bout that. We don't know if Ghosts will break beyond John Carpenter aficionados and the Ice Cube fans it's being marketed to, but the suits that make casting decisions in Hollywood should go just to watch Henstridge. Why isn't this woman a star? Schwarzenegger and Willis are getting old. No reason why the next action star shouldn't be a woman.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, he would have paid . . .
Midweek rental level. No, Henstridge doesn't get extra points for getting naked because she doesn't go that route. If you want to catch one brief scene in a tank top and underwear, feel free to rent.
The extra points are because everything else this week is even worse than Ice Cube's inability to act. Ignore Ice and John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars isn't as painful.
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