Red Planet

Contemporary taste seems to favor either superexpensive SF movies made today or supercheap camp items from the heyday of Hollywood. I don’t know the actual budget of this adventure yarn, about the first manned expedition to Mars, but it feels like a middle-range effort whose heart is with the bargain-basement offerings of yesteryear. The dialogue’s worthy of Destination Moon half a century ago, and though there isn’t a member of the spaceship’s kitchen staff named Cookie, Val Kilmer plays a space janitor, which is almost as good. The story here has the expedition’s commander, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, orbiting Mars while crew members who’ve crash-landed on the planet discover it isn’t uninhabited. Most of the enigmas in the plot are never adequately explained, but a couple of shots on the planet’s surface have some of the distilled poetry of Edgar Ulmer’s The Man From Planet X. Despite a multifaceted obeisance toward 2001 that extends even to calling the commander Bowman, the film’s aspirations toward low-tech triumph are the main source of its charm. I confess that before I picked up on this I fidgeted a lot. Antony Hoffman directed from a screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin; with Tom Sizemore and Terence Stamp. 105 min. (JR)

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