We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Forget that this lumbering sci-fi action flick is supposed to be set in the year 2176 and on Mars. Forget the red filters, the sandy locations, and the halfhearted attempts to explain why Earthlings can breathe the Martian atmosphere. This is a Viking flick, plain and very simple: Hundreds of nearly unstoppable berserkers with swords and spears ravage a remote town and its inhabitants, and only a small band of good guys (which includes some not-so-good guys) can stand up to them. Director and co-writer John Carpenter does add some sorta-futuristic complications: Mars two centuries after Jimmy Carter is a matriarchal society with a high proportion of lesbians, but our heroine—a sexy, drug-dependent Mars Police Force officer (Natasha Henstridge)—is straight. And the berserkers (wearing Goth-punk outfits left over from one of The Crows) are deranged by microorganisms, but, then again, they might be possessed by the spirits of Mars’ former denizens. This attention-deficit-disorder plotting is just a means to assemble a bunch of second-stringers from Quentin Tarantino, Walter Hill, and Guy Ritchie films (including Ice Cube, Pam Grier, and Jason Statham) and turn them loose with laser pistols and grenades to the beats of a techno-rock score composed by—and thank heavens he was available!—John Carpenter. The action scenes aren’t badly staged, but they’re significantly undermined by the film’s utter lack of conviction. Although the rampaging zombies suggest Night of the Living Dead and the weird bent-metal talismans suggest The Blair Witch Project, the only horror here is the half-baked script. —Mark Jenkins