Mars Attacks

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Tim Burton's sniggering hommage to grade-B science fiction. Hordes of computer-animated Little Green Men with big heads and exposed brains, reminiscent of the aliens in This Island Earth, annihilate the majority of the big-name cast (including Jack Nicholson in two roles, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Danny DeVito, Pierce Brosnan, Rod Steiger, too many to mention) before a gangly Kansas adolescent and his grandmother stumble upon the Only Thing That Can Stop Them: Slim Whitman's falsetto. To call it sophomoric would be to flatter its academic credentials. "Puerile" would not be an overestimation. Never was so much money spent in a conscious effort to look cheesy. (Never, except maybe in the architectural design and construction of Las Vegas, where a good part of the action happens to be set. But the consciousness of the effort, there, is more in doubt.) In truth, the whole thing has a let's-not-think-about-tomorrow air of a shopping spree with Dad's credit card. Much of the time, material assets must substitute for laughs. And some of the jokes, if that's what they are, aim more for disturbance than amusement: the pre-credits stampede of flaming cattle (cf. the runaway horse with the flaming mane in Franju's Cocteau adaptation, Thomas the Imposter) or the extraterrestrials' experiment of grafting a woman's head onto a dog's body and vice versa. Sarah Jessica Parker, the woman who donates her head to said experiment, has a deft touch as a flirtatious talk-show host. Jim Brown cuts a funny figure in his King Tut costume as a former professional prizefighter and current professional greeter at the Luxor Hotel-Casino. And Lisa Marie, the Vampira of Burton's Ed Wood, is the single best thing in the movie, a Martian in femme fatale disguise (the bulbous dome cocooned inside a beehive hairdo), with a dancelike stylization of the appropriate undulations: good enough to wangle an invitation into the White House love nest known as the Kennedy Room. (1996) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG-13


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