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Mission to Mars

Directed by Brian De Palma

Somewhere in there is a rather ludicrous explanation about musical notes and hidden DNA codes, all of which is explained with a few random strokes on a keyboard. One longs for the awe and innocence of François Truffaut in Close Encounters, explaining the aliens' musical tones using sign language and a small, sweet smile.

De Palma, who has always been the most minor "major" director, seems terribly out of his depth here. The confines of the space capsule, in which far too much of the movie takes place, allow for none of the jagged, jittery camerawork that brings even the most moribund of his pictures to some kind of life. Snake Eyes, with its hyperkinetic intro lifted from Hitchcock's Rope, began where most movies end, and De Palma pushes his luck by once more opening a film with a protracted, apparently single-shot sequence; only instead of Nicolas Cage cruising through an Atlantic City casino, now we're stuck in drab suburbia. Then again, no one ever accused De Palma of knowing when enough is enough; he can no longer tell whom he's ripping off.

It feels as though we're watching a student-film re-enactment of 2001 (particularly the scene in which Gary Lockwood jogs around the centrifuge) or outtakes from Apollo 13. (So much trouble, so little room!) Worse, it feels as though entire space sequences have been deleted: One minute, the survivors of Mars Two are clinging to the hull of a tiny refueling capsule orbiting Mars; the next, we're informed by the mission leader (an uncredited Armin Mueller-Stahl) that a capsule has inexplicably landed on Mars and that it could only be the work of one Jim McConnell. One can only assume all the, ah, good stuff landed on the cutting-room floor, because it sure as hell didn't make it to Mars.

Opens March 10.

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