In Space, No One Can Hear You Fail Miserably
Carrie-Anne Moss has a terrific neck. Long and indelibly feminine, yet with a saucy hint of sculpted sinew, it's a veritable wonder of anatomy. In Red Planet, we get endless carefully composed shots of the lithe Matrix co-star's neck--getting showered and caressed, sweaty and dirty, stretching provocatively this way and that. Later, director Antony Hoffman will encourage us to ponder the fact that Moss also has really large breasts. So large, in fact, that an early, character-defining, multiangled shower scene and a later breast-enhancing spacesuit are used to make us understand just how large these emotive secondary sexual attributes truly are.
Which is not to suggest that Red Planet is all tits and ass (or rather, neck). We also get to see astronauts Val Kilmer (looking like a boozy Sammy Hagar) and Tom Sizemore take a man-sized piss on a tatty-looking Mars populated by merciless swarms of vicious, flesh-eating, glow-in-the-dark cockroaches.
The plot? Well, in case you were a smart person and didn't see Brian DePalma's atrocious Mission to Mars, Red Planet offers an even more atrocious refresher course in Bad Space Movie. It's the future, just like in Mission to Mars, except this future is much more grim. For one thing, people still listen to the Police. For another, the stupid human race has depleted the earth's atmosphere so badly that it becomes imperative to get a big spaceship (like the one used in Mission to Mars, as an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey) to go to Mars, where there isn't any atmosphere, so as to acquire some atmosphere.
Actually, there might be some atmosphere on Mars, due to some algae other spaceships left there at some other point in the future. And so space guys Lt. Cmdr. Kate Bowman (Moss), Robby Gallagher (Kilmer), Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Sizemore), Chief Science Officer Bud Chantilas (Terence Stamp), and two other guys who'll die quick 'cause they aren't famous, so fuck 'em, go to Mars. Also along for the ride is a skittish robot acronymically called AMEE.
Just like in Mission to Mars, our heroes find out that spacecraft inevitably fuck up when inept screenwriters try to make them do something as simple as land on a planet. However, this is also where the film hits its immortal cinéma-merde moment: As Cmdr. Kate deals with her messed-up orbiting spaceship (the victim of a pesky radioactive space storm), the guys plummet to the Martian surface in--oh, this is just too good--in a landing craft--are you sitting down?--in a landing craft made of several clustered balloons. As in, the other things (along with Bad Space Movies) you blow up with hot air.
OK, so you're in a balloon spaceship with no landing gear, and, balloons being what they are, what's gonna happen when you land?
That's right: You're gonna bounce.
So for minutes on end, the assembled minds and talents of Hollywood treat us to a truly remarkable sight: several clustered balloons bouncing all over the Martian desert, which looks remarkably similar to an Earth desert shot with a red filter on the camera lens.
Now, really, how the hell can you top that? Well, carrying the balloon motif further, Hopkins directs Moss to become so distressed she must strip down to an artistically viable and extremely sheer T-shirt. Once they stop bouncing--the space guys, I mean--shit happens: They discover that their Mars Habitat shelter (left by previous Mars inhabitants) has been ripped to shreds by unknown forces. That's bad enough. But then, after they discover that there's plenty of air on Mars, night falls, and it gets totally cold. But no problem--Robby uses his space laser to burn the wreckage of the shelter, and the guys cozy up to warming embers, which is pretty amazing given that the shelter is made of, well, steel.
Perhaps concerned that our fragile suspension of belief might be strained by such logistically suspect details, Hoffman then lets loose a torrent of slow-paced poppycock in order to shred it entirely. It's at this point that the glow-in-the-dark cockroaches appear.
One wouldn't be remiss in asking: Why the hell are there glow-in-the-dark cockroaches on Mars? Well, Dr. Quinn has a scientific answer (and I'm paraphrasing here): If you have air and water, you have life, and therefore, by logical extension, you have glowing cockroaches. (Fascinated by this theory, I went home after the film, threw some water into the air, and waited. Not one glowing cockroach showed up. But science can be inscrutable.)
Anyway, AMEE, being a chick robot, quickly goes insane and homicidal. Kate has tense chats with Robby via a 56K modem (don't ask), the cockroaches attack ("This planet sucks!" Robby opines), and then, in a startling departure, Red Planet stops ripping off Mission to Mars, opting instead to rip off Die Hard's is-it-the-red-wire-or-the-blue-wire? routine for its notably suspense-free ending. In another brave departure from DePalma's terrible Mars film, Red Planet eschews eye-popping state-of-the-art computer effects in favor of computer effects that have all the realism, detail, and dramatic effect of a somewhat taciturn Web page done on a sputtering old Atari.
The point of it all? Beats me. But none of it--the insanely brain-palsied plotting, the horrific acting, the lousy effects--detracts from Moss' neck, which, even after the film's flaccid finale, remains a wonder to behold.