GHOSTS OF MARS *** USA 2001 Dir: John Carpenter. 98 mins
One of Carpenter’s least admired movies, this formed part of his cycle of 90’s FX-driven studio movies and was also one of the decade’s under-performing big budget Mars movies. It’s a knockabout horror-infused action movie with a great cast, told in flashback by Mars police officer Natasha Henstridge, the lone survivor on board a decimated 22nd century train. She relays the story of an ill-fated, CON AIR-esque prison transfer involving scowling Ice Cube as a bad ass named James “Desolation Williams”, a post-JACKIE BROWN Pam Grier as a predatory lesbian in a full-length PVC coat and a pre-stardom Jason Statham with fuzzy disappearing hair and a dedication to sleazy come-ons.
The threat comes in the form of an ancient evil Martian force that wakes up to possess an army of disappointing antagonists who cut themselves for decoration, pierce their bodies, file down their teeth and wear sliced off faces as masks. The once-in-a-lifetime eclectic ensemble make it fun: Grier asks “Who goes there?” in one of several nods to past Carpenter movies, Carpenter veterans Peter Jason and Robert Carradine show up, Clea Duvall loses her head and Cube gets to shout “Come on, you mindless muthafuckas!” It drowns in exposition (and flashbacks-within-flashbacks) but the large-scale action set pieces showcase some enthusiastic head lopping and limb severing courtesy of KNB FX, while Carpenter’s own heavy metal infused score gives it life. The parallels to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 are confirmed by the final reinforcement of the cop / hardened criminal friendship.
Review by Steven West