(Air Date: Week Of 12/11/96)
Remember the audience reaction to "Springtime For Hitler", the play within Mel Brooks' classic 1968 movie "The Producers"? After watching a lavish musical production number extolling the virtues of the Master Race, they would just sit there in a cultural time warp, stunned that ANYONE would have the nerve to produce such a tasteless valentine to the Third Reich. And then Dick Shawn and Renee Taylor turned up as Adolph and Eva and the audience went into hysterics. Well, ten major stars (and another ten established actors) agreed to appear in "Mars Attacks!", some of them without reading the script, & all so they could work with Tim Burton.
There may be a cult of fans out there dying to see this movie not just once but ten or fifteen times, and they are welcome to it. The preview audience that fidgeted through "Mars Attacks!" with me stared at their friends afterwards as if to say: "WHAT THE HECK DID WE JUST WATCH?" I can't tell you without giving it away, except to say that it must have seemed like a great idea to SOMEONE at four in the morning and that I wish someone had warned me before I spent 105 minutes watching it. I guess I CAN say that you won't believe what happens to many of your favorite stars. 27 years after "Easy Rider", Jack Nicholson as President James Dale bears an eerie resemblance to Richard Nixon and with Glenn Close as First Lady Marsha Dale so closely resembling Martha Mitchell, it's weird to see them sleeping in the same bed together. (Their 15 year-old daughter Natalie Portman as Taffy Dale is the result, although she's shown to far less advantage here than she was in Ted Demme's "Beautiful Girls".)
Rod Steiger hides under a pair of dark glasses all through his role as the hawkish General Decker. Jim Brown, Pam Grier and their onscreen kids come off best as the feisty Williams family and Annette Benning has a sweet turn as Barbara Land, the disgruntled wife of self-styled big shot Jason Land, also played by Jack Nicholson. Sylvia Sidney, who's been onscreen since1929, and Lucas Haas as her awkward grandson Richie also have a few good moments together, but like everyone else, they have to work with screenwriter Jonathan Gems' clunky dialogue. At least Tom Jones gets to sing more than talk and at least Danny De Vito---no, that's a plot point. And I hope that Joe Don Baker, Michael J. Fox, Lisa Marie, Martin Short & Paul Winfield were extremely well-paid for their efforts. Pierce Brosnan & Sarah Jessica Parker in particular deserve a big fat bonus for what? - humouring Tim Burton's worship of Tod Browning? And oh, yeh, the Martians. Tim Burton just lovers monsters. It says so right on the press kit. I see no reason to doubt it.
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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