Mars Attacks! Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

I can help! I'm a lawyer! If you're gonna conquer the world, you'll need lawyers!

In the 1960s, a controversial card collection came out called "Mars Attacks!", which featured the heinous acts committed by an invading force from Mars. The illustrations on the cards were graphically violent, with titles such as 'Naked and the Dead', 'Martians Vaporize a Dog', and 'Blasted into Oblivion'. In the tail end of 1996, "Mars Attacks!" the movie, directed by the creatively eccentric Tim Burton ("Batman", "Ed Wood", "Edward Scissorhands"), was released. Unfortunately, the $70 million dollar production was severely limited by the low-rent underpinnings of its premise.

I want the people to know that they still have two out of three branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad.

"Mars Attacks!" revolves around the cinematic rendition of the cards into scenes, which is not conducive to creating a cohesive story. What Burton ended up with was a bloated, slowly-paced, and choppy homage to Invasion flicks with a 60s art deco Dayglo color scheme and inspired moments too few and far-between. The movie takes place on three fronts in the United States: Washington D.C., New York, Las Vegas, and Perkinsville. In Washington, we are introduced to the President (Jack Nicholson), the First Lady (Glenn Close), the First Daughter (Natalie Portman), the war-mongering-cigar-chomping general (Rod Steiger), the wimpy general (Paul Winfield), the horny press secretary (Martin Short), the scientist (Pierce Brosnan), and a single mother raising two children ("Cleopatra Jones" herself, Pam Grier!). In New York, we meet GNN reporter Jason Stone (Michael J. Fox) and his ditzy talk show host girlfriend, Natalie West (Sarah Jessica Parker). In Las Vegas, there's hotel developer Art Land (Jack Nicholson, again), his new-age-alcoholic wife Barbara (Annette Bening), the gambler (Danny Devito), a former heavyweight boxing champion (Seventies blaxploitation star Jim Brown), and Tom Jones (as himself). Finally, in Perkinsville, there's loser donut shop employee Richie (Lukas Haas), his senile grandmother (Sylvia Sidney), and his card-carrying-NRA-member father (Joe Don Baker, who had an absolutely stunning performance in the 70s crime drama "Mitchell"). If that sounds like a lot of characters, that's because it is. The first hour limps forward just trying to introduce all these characters, and before any of them have barely five or ten minutes of screen time, they are killed off by the Martians.

Wow, he made the international sign of the donut.

If there is one redeeming quality of "Mars Attacks!", it would be the real stars of the film-- the entirely computer-rendered Martians. They are CGI creatures with the personality of five-year old brats who mercilessly slaughter everything in their path and conduct obscene experiments with their captives. Their on-screen antics are probably the closest thing to being funny in this overly-long and not fantastically funny movie.

Just because you're dressed like King Tut doesn't make you our leader!

If you want to see some truly knockout special effects or if you love the cheesiness of the old alien invasion movies, you may enjoy this one. Unfortunately, Burton's never-ending quest for the increasingly outrageous expression of his twisted humor has produced a flat narrative with numerous attempts at humor that fail to evoke any sort of response.

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