Ghosts of Mars

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Review byMatthew Turner12/05/2001

One out of five stars
Running time: 98 mins

Director John Carpenter used to be a director whose latest film was eagerly awaited – after all; this is the man who made Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13.

He still has his hardcore group of optimistic fans (as evidenced by his name preceding the title on the credits and poster), though even they will be hard pressed to find anything worthwhile in Ghosts of Mars, which is nothing short of ‘Assault on Precinct 13 In Space’ (with even Assault being originally based on cult western Rio Bravo).

The plot is basic enough. In 2176, Mars is inhabited, due to the overpopulation of the Earth. For reasons that are never properly explained, Mars is a matriarchal society, though this serves no discernible plot purpose in the story.

Natasha ‘the chick from Species (though keeping clothes firmly on, throughout)’ Henstridge plays Lt Melanie Ballard, a Martian police officer sent to a remote mining outpost to pick up dangerous criminal –stop sniggering at the back- ‘Desolation’ Williams (Ice Cube).

However, when Ballard and her merry band of space cops (including Clea DuVall, Pam Grier and Jason ‘gorblimey’ Statham) arrive, they find that the inhabitants have been possessed by an alien force, the ‘ghosts of Mars’ (no matter how many times you say it, it just isn’t scary).

The possession seems to take the form of turning you into a self-mutilating Marilyn Manson look-alike and it isn’t long before the cops are being chased by a horde of overly made-up zombie-monsters intent on eating them. Or something. And -oh yes- they have to shoot their way out.

The central idea isn’t a bad one – after all, Carpenter already made it work once before. Unfortunately you get the unmistakable impression that the film could have been so much better with just a bit more thought and attention.

For example, at one point, they realise that to ‘kill’ the zombies makes things worse because that releases the ‘ghost’ which can then potentially zombify one of the good guys, yet this doesn’t stop them from continuing to shoot everything in sight.

The dialogue is truly appalling, with some of it downright laughable, as in the classic line: "What happens if we blow up the nuclear power station? There’ll be a big explosion, right?" Some of the acting is extremely dodgy, too, the worst offenders being Jason Statham (seemingly auditioning for a Sky One sitcom entitled Cockney Geezer In Space) and Ice Cube, who seems to have forgotten all the acting skills he displayed in Three Kings.

The film also criminally wastes both Pam Grier (who should fire her agent immediately) and a promising lesbian subplot…

To be fair, Henstridge does a good job, though even she can’t make her love scene with Statham convincing. There’s also a slightly subversive streak in that Ballard is saved from possession only due to her addiction to class ‘A’ drugs, but that’s not enough to save the film, which is also suffers from plastic-looking special effects and an irritating thrash-metal musical score by Carpenter and, um, Anthrax.

To sum up, then, Ghosts of Mars is a wasted opportunity. With a few script rewrites and a bit more money thrown at it, this could have been an enjoyably trashy shoot-em-up. Instead, it’s disappointing, poorly made, irritating to look at and listen to, and -at times- even boring.

Entirely missable, unless you’re a fan of ‘bad movies’.

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Content updated: 17/10/2019 12:06

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