John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars Review

Aug 30, 2001 | 8:55am EDT

The title is self-explanatory as is the complete plot line of the movie. It's a ghost story set on Mars get it? Well almost. The year is 2176 and Mars has been colonized by a matriarchal society in cahoots with some nefarious mining cartel. Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) has to travel to an eerie mining town Shiny Canyon to transport the most dangerous criminal on Mars James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) back to Chryse. When Ballard and her team reach Shiny Canyon they find it strangely deserted. It doesn't take them long however to find out that Martian ghosts are possessing human hosts and decapitating all those who don't come under the influence. Ballard and Williams have to overcome their natural aggression toward each other and work together to make it out alive. Think Aliens meets 48 Hours.

The dialogue is clearly second banana to the action and the actors don't have much to work with. Not that they're even given the chance. Pam Grier is wasted as Henstridge's ill-fated boss--her character is beheaded within the first few minutes of the police team reaching Shiny Canyon. Henstridge and Ice Cube just aren't mean enough nor do they show enough animosity to convey the depth of any supposed tension between them. Worse the bad guys are comical and you're never really scared of them. The supporting cast is given even less interesting dialogue to deliver and the talented Clea DuVall (Girl Interrupted) is left looking lost and bewildered for most of the movie. Not even Jason Statham (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Snatch) can make his character rise above the incredibly dull and cliched prose.

John Carpenter has lost it. Not since Big Trouble in Little China (1986) has Carpenter given us a good movie and he certainly hasn't given us a good horror movie since the early '80s. This movie is about as scary as my 83-year-old grandmother. Who tells a horror story in a series of flashbacks? Though the setting is adequately spooky the action is plodding and no tension or horror builds during the film. The bad guys and especially the main baddie Big Daddy Mars don't project an aura of terror or mayhem. Carpenter tries to develop so many characters that you get no real sense of any of them.

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