Is there intelligent life on Mars? Yes, according to the climax of Mission to Mars, and its greatest extant achievement is — spoiler alert! — a large diorama. But was there intelligent life on the set of this movie? Perhaps not: This bit of sci-fi — a mush of dusty scenarios and New Agey stardust — is rather like every other astronauts-in-peril flick, except that this is a Brian De Palma film, meaning that when we first meet the flyboys and their buxom gals at a backyard barbecue, their rib gnawing and beer quaffing is captured in an elaborate tracking shot.
In the year 2020, while Luke (Don Cheadle) explores the red planet, his buddies Woody (Tim Robbins) and Jim (Gary Sinise) follow his progress from mission control, and when a malevolent sandstorm attacks Luke’s crew (which includes Gladiator’s Connie Nielsen), they lead the rescue mission. But Jim, a widower, is psychologically fragile and NASA is wary of letting him launch, leading Woody to shout at a superior: ”When Maggie died, it knocked the hell out of him! It knocked the hell out of all of us!” Such inexcusably awful dialogue is typical of the screenplay. Why didn’t anyone knock the hell out of it? D