John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars is reminiscent of the science fiction B films of decades past. The only problem is that here the “B” is for bad filmmaking. The type of stinker you would expect in the final days of the summer movie season, Ghosts Of Mars is yet another nail in the coffin of the career of John Carpenter.
The story is set in the year 2176, where the Angry Red Planet is being used as a strip mine. A group of police officers are sent to a mining town to pick up and escort a criminal named James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube) back for arraignment. However, when the squad arrives in town, they find it to be deserted save a few prisoners and Williams.
The squad soon discovers that the miners have not deserted the town. Instead, thanks to some mysterious Martian dust, they’ve been turned into zombies who have a knack for decapitating people, piercing their skin with large metal objects and dressing like rejects from a Marilyn Manson concert. After the squad’s commander, Helena (Pam Grier) meets her fate; it is up to policewoman Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) to lead everyone out of the town and to safety. Naturally, this means she has to trust and rely on Desolation Williams to save the day.
In many ways, Ghosts Of Mars resembles Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. In both films, the hero has to trust and rely on a criminal to help get a group of people trapped in an abandoned area to safety. The only difference between that 1976 film and this movie is that Assault was actually a great little film, lean, fast paced and exciting. Ghosts Of Mars, on the other hand, lumbers along like a bloated corpse, chock full of inane dialogue and ridiculous storytelling (there are so many flashbacks that for a while I thought I was watching Memento In Space). There are also clichs that pass themselves off for characters, lifeless directing and acting unworthy of a junior high-school play. Even the factors we would expect to be halfway decent, namely the action scenes, visual and makeup effects, are substandard.
Natasha Henstridge, seven years after her oh-so-memorable debut in 1994’s Species, continues to drive home the point that she shouldn’t be allowed to speak on camera. Jason Statham, last seen in Snatch, is just plain annoying (and doesn’t meet his fate soon enough). Pam Grier phones in her performance, which I really can’t blame her for doing. Only Ice Cube manages to escape with a little bit of his onscreen dignity intact.
There is nothing sadder than watching a filmmaker who once had talent and potential working well past their prime, churning out dud after dud instead of coming up with something worthwhile or fun every so often. Last week, Woody Allen was guilty of this cinematic misdemeanor. This week, it’s John Carpenter. Skip this mess and go rent the DVD of Assault On Precinct 13 instead.