Carpenter’s ho-hum ‘Ghosts of Mars’ is a pale imitation of the master’s best work

May 29, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 29/May 31, 2013

John Carpenter is a film legend, the director of such science fiction and horror hits as HalloweenThe Thing, Escape from New York and They Live! Unfortunately, Carpenter’s outstanding resume only serves to make Ghosts of Mars, his ho-hum 2001 outing, all the more disappointing.

The story, scripted by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis, is not unpromising. The tale begins in the year 2176 on Mars, which is in the process of being terraformed and colonized by a matriarchal society. Martian police Cmdr. Helena Braddock and a team of two veteran and two rookie officers are dispatched to an outpost to pick up one James “Desolation” Williams, a notorious criminal wanted for murder.

The task seems simple enough, even though Williams is considered highly dangerous. But when the team’s cargo train arrives at the town, they find it has become a charnel house. Several beheaded corpses are hanging from the rafters of the recreation facility. A few inarticulate individuals are hanging around, but they’re incapable of explaining what has happened.

It soon becomes apparent that the eponymous ghosts of Mars have taken possession of a number of humans and begun killing the rest. After Braddock is slain, it falls to her chief deputy, Lt. Melanie Ballard, to organize the surviving members of her team, Williams’ gang and a few others against a coming onslaught of zombified townspeople.

As mentioned, the story is promising enough. And the cast, led by the capable Natasha Henstridge as Ballard, Ice Cube as Williams, Pam Grier as Braddock and Jason Statham as Sgt. Jericho Butler, is game.

But the film never rises above the mundane. The script’s flashback structure may work against it. So does the fact that the movie never develops any character beyond Ballard enough for the audience to care about their deaths.

In short: The chills in Ghosts of Mars aren’t chilling enough, and its thrills aren’t thrilling enough.

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