Ignoring the loud flopping sound of the previous year’s two Mars films — Red Planet and (ugh) Mission to Mars — Ghosts of Mars chooses to boldly go where several have gone before. What distinguishes this one from the other flicks in the Martian Movie Renaissance of 2000-2001, though, is the fact that Ghosts of Mars is ostensibly a horror movie and takes place more than 150 years in the future. Oh, and it stars Ice Cube. Technically, he co-stars with Natasha Henstridge, but coming off the success of Friday and um, Next Friday, he gets top billing here, which is no small feat for a black actor in a major horror release.
The movie takes us to the year 2176, a time when humans have colonized Mars and, judging from Ice Cube’s wardrobe, have brought with them an irrational love for Zubaz. Cube is bad-ass prisoner James “Desolation” Williams, and Henstridge is Melanie Ballard, the cop assigned to bring him in for being too damn bad-ass. In case you don’t recognize how bad-ass he is, Ballard helps make it painfully evident:
Braddock: Do you trust me?
Desolation: Hell naw.
Braddock: You know, I really don’t understand you at all, Desolation.
Desolation: The only one looking out for me is me.
Braddock: Doesn’t that bother you?
Desolation: Nothing bothers me. I stopped worrying a long time ago.
Braddock: Don’t you believe in anything?
Desolation: I believe in staying alive.
He also wears a muscle shirt, a sure sign of bad-ass-edry.
As Ballard and company — including Pam Grier as the sacrificial black authority figure and a pre-Transporter Jason Statham — arrive in the Martian mining town to pick up Desolation from a local jail, they find that the townspeople have been possessed by ancient spirits hell-bent on killing everyone in sight. What sounds like a great set-up, though, quickly turns sour as we realize that the possessed townsfolk look like dated Road Warrior casualties moonlighting in the play from Staying Alive. They feel like an old man’s vision of “Kids these days, with their piercings and tattoos and leather pants and whatnot, always loitering in front of my house and decapitating people. Get a job, you hippies!” Mostly they stand around screaming like cartoonish gladiators and hurling buzz saw blades (?) at people. It’s all way too Krull-like.
The “good guys” aren’t much better; Ice Cube can scowl with the best of them, but his short, pudgy frame is ill-suited for a kick-ass action hero — something that would become painfully clear a few years later in xXx: State of the Union. And really, that’s what Ghosts of Mars devolves into: an action movie. Something along the lines of high-end SyFy fare starring Casper Van Dien.
That said, it still might’ve come together as cheesy entertainment if the action hadn’t been so generic; I swear, if I saw one more slow-motion, A-Team explosion catapulting stuntmen through the air, I was gonna scream. And holy crap, there are more flashbacks here than in an entire season of Family Guy. When Jericho (Statham) meets Uno (Duane Davis; see Don’t I Know You…?), we’re treated to a flashback within a flashback within a flashback…none of which involve a naked 1972 Pam Grier. Final score of the 2000-2001 movie season: Mars 3, Viewers 0.