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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Movie Scene
At the Movies: 'John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars'

By David Germain
AP Movie Writer

"John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars," released by Sony Screen Gems, is rated R for strong violence-gore, language and some drug content. Running time: 98 minutes.
Mars needs a rest.

Hollywood has defiled our orbital neighbor with last year's "Mission to Mars" and "Red Planet" and now with "John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars," by far the worst of this Martian threesome.

"Ghosts of Mars" is a mind-numbingly bad movie. It has the dark, campy look of some of Carpenter's previous B-movies but none of the suspense or blackhearted vigor.

The movie feels like a survey, cobbling together elements from past Carpenter films: The bloodlust of "Vampires"; the who-goes-there factor of "The Thing"; the nocturnal fisticuffs of "Escape From New York"; the mysterious mist of "The Fog."

And its futuristic premise i a tough female leader teaming with a cold-blooded criminal to fight an alien menace i was done to great effect last year in "Pitch Black," making "Ghosts of Mars" look that much flimsier.

Natasha Henstridge (the alien invader of "Species") plays Lt. Melanie Ballard, a cop on Mars in 2176, when human colonists are converting the planet to a breathable atmosphere.

Ballard, her commander (Pam Grier), and a police team are dispatched to a mining outpost to pick up James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube), charged with mass murder.

Desolation (and we are not making this nickname up) insists he's innocent, that someone or something else chopped off all those heads and hung the victims upside down like meat on hooks. Ballard naturally believes him.

With her commander quickly, gruesomely exiting the movie, Ballard and her team join with Desolation and his band of really dumb thugs against a common enemy i long-dormant lifeforms that had been sealed below the surface of Mars.

These bloodthirsty, gaseous ghosts take over the colonists and begin to renovate their bodies with decorative self-mutilation. The ghosts are remnants of a warlike Martian civilization hellbent on ridding their planet of invaders, though Carpenter and co-writer Larry Sulkis neglect to explain how these creatures wound up locked inside Mars.

The tribal behavior of the possessed humans is so silly it should be hysterically funny. But it winds up annoying and gross i and not remotely frightening i watching these brutes skewer their faces, lop off heads and bellow incomprehensible syllables of their own "language."

Basically, "Ghosts of Mars" is a giant street rumble between the human gang and the Martian rabble. The endless sequences of hand-to-hand fighting are limp, surpassed by almost any episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

The movie's unsatisfying conclusion feels like something Carpenter tacked on for lack of a real ending.

Carpenter wrote his own music, a grating onslaught of repetitive, industrial Muzak.

The special effects and miniatures are cheesy, which is excusable in B-movies that offer quality in script and story. Here, the cheap look simply reinforces the fact that this is a low-class movie presenting little more than severed heads and limbs and a lot of slit throats.

Too bad, because Henstridge and Ice Cube have decent rapport that occasionally rises above the dreadful material. Jason Statham also has some personality here and there as a seasoned cop, but Clea Duvall as a rookie officer and Joanna Cassidy as an archaeologist are wasted in empty roles.

Suggestion to Hollywood: Go pick on Venus for a while.