Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

After the cosmic fizzle of Mission to Mars, this movie’s first assignment is simply not to be an embarrassment. It isn’t, but it’s not very interesting, either. The action takes place roughly 50 years in the future, when Earth has become an environmental slum and plans to relocate the population to Mars are behind schedule. Creating an Earthlike atmosphere with oxygen-producing algae doesn’t seem to be working, and a team is dispatched to determine why: Captain Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), tech-support guy Gallagher (Val Kilmer), scientist Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), philosopher Chantilas (Terence Stamp), pilots Santen and Pettengil (Benjamin Bratt and Simon Baker), and robot AMEE (Korean for “R2D2”). Gamma rays hit at an inopportune moment, leading Bowman to stay on the main ship while the others head for the surface in a landing craft. Once on Mars (impersonated by deserts in Jordan and Australia), the five men find that their intended home has been destroyed, their food and oxygen supplies are gone, and AMEE has gone nuts. There’s one bit of good news: It turns out that the planet has breathable air. But it’s also inhabited by creatures that are prepared to devour the members of the rapidly dwindling landing party. Director Antony Hoffman establishes a matter-of-fact tone that suggests that Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin’s scenario is scientifically founded, even though there are some significant holes in its plausibility. Similarly, he establishes Bowman’s competence and tenacity but undermines her authority with shower scenes and tight-T-shirt shots. The Prokofiev-meets-Apollo 440 score is by Graeme Ravell, and the special effects (some much better than others) are by veterans of The Matrix. —Mark Jenkins