***/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras D
starring Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Tom Sizemore, Terence Stamp
screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin
directed by Antony Hoffman
by Walter Chaw Watching Val Kilmer pretend to not have enough oxygen is very much like watching Val Kilmer at any other time, but there's something about him in a helmet that works for me. (Frankly, upon further consideration, the two states don't seem all that unrelated.) South African director Antony Hoffman's Red Planet, working from a clunky screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, is, despite its obvious shortcomings, an interesting contribution to the end-of-the-millennia sweepstakes. Counting most specifically among its contemporaries films like The Matrix and Dark City (and the same year's Pitch Black), it's an eco-terror flick at heart, positing that in 2056, with the Earth polluted beyond salvation, the last chance for mankind's survival is terraforming Mars using a biologically-engineered algae that for some reason hasn't taken, necessitating an investigative mission by Capt. (not Dave) Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) and her small crew of scientists. It's the set-up of course to everything from Aliens to Supernova, and originality isn't the strong suit of what boils down to one of those emergency-beacon-is-really-a-trap movies. (At least until it suddenly becomes one of those walking-on-a-soundstage-I-mean-strange-planet-with-an-animal-sidekick movies.) What works about Red Planet--and works extremely well--is that it confronts its problems with a bracing, earnest, seemingly honest attempt at resolving those problems, even though the biggest one ("Hey, I thought you said there wasn't life on this planet") is resolved with, "Yeah, how 'bout that."