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John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars  

Directed By: John Carpenter
Written By: Larry Sulkis, John Carpenter
Starring: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Pam Grier, Jason Statham,
Clea DuVall, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Cetrone
Rated: R (Violence / Gore)
Running Time: 100 Min.

Yes, I know... another summer, another movie about Mars...

With Ghosts of Mars, John Carpenter gives us his take on the old
'space cops have to transfer a dangerous prisoner and all hell breaks loose forcing the cops and the prisoner to work together' plotline which we've all seen more times than we care to remember. Heading up this epic is the main man, name above the title, STAR of the movie, Ice Cube. Now, nothing against Ice, I mean he's cool, he's chill, and above all he's frosty, but is this the only guy they could find to headline this movie? They must not have tried very hard, since I'm fairly certain Coolio could have done as well for much less money. Perhaps they did ask and Coolio gave them the cold shoulder.

The story concerns members of the Mars Police Force who must travel to a desolate mining colony to pick up a very dangerous prisoner, Ice Cube, and take him back to stand trail for mass murder. Before they know it, they're in the same condition as the audience watching them; right in the middle of an awful bloody mess. And surprise, as with all space mining colonies, some very nasty 'co-star killers' are lying in wait.

This seems like a simple story to tell, but by the enormous amount of monotonous voiceover, pointless flashback and unnecessary exposition, you'd never know it. These devices are often used in films for artistic reasons and dramatic effect, but in Ghosts of Mars they were obviously used to patch a movie that just wasn't working.

The M.P.F. officers find that the miners have all apparently gone insane, since they now spend most of their time screaming and moaning, practicing self-mutilation, piercing their body parts and occasionally decapitating one another. Either they've all become possessed by an ancient, long dormant spirit-like alien presence, or they've just been listening to too many Marilyn Manson CDs. I'm still not sure which was the actual case.

The police are a very small group, far too few to provide for an acceptable body-count, so joining the cast of victims are a bunch of Ice Cube's space-homies, who attempt to aid his escape. Hey, now there's an idea for a Mars movie! Space Homies! I can see it now... Ice Cube and his crew cruising the Martian wastelands in their gold-plated stretch hover-limo. They could get the Wayans brothers to script and direct! It'll be great! I wish I'd seen that movie instead of this one.

Anyway, enough about plot. You can imagine what happens next and you would be right. Knowing John Carpenter's previous work, I had imagined that this story would be told with a tongue-in-cheek style, much like Big Trouble in Little China and Escape From L.A., which were both more satirical than serious. Unfortunately, Ghosts of Mars doesn't seem to have that essential 'we know this is cheesy' attitude that may have raised it to cult status. Also, because the story is really told by some very overworked film editors who have attempted to hide it's flaws, there aren't many memorable scenes to speak of.

Lastly, ninety percent of this movie is a flashback which is being told by one of the characters. The rule here is that, because it's a personal recollection, there should be no scenes within the flashback that do not involve the character telling the story. That's called 'logic'. For most of the film, those editors mentioned earlier do a pretty good job of this, but near the end, even this rule is thrown out in favor of an overblown finale.

So, that's another lousy Mars movie to add to the list. I suppose I deserved to suffer through Ghost of Mars, since I didn't heed my own warnings based on Mission to Mars and Red Planet. When will I ever learn?

Allen Vestal

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