by Matt Smith
Red Planet might be the least interesting movie ever made about a mechanic and a ship’s captain hooking up. And it takes place IN SPACE. Shot and released at the nadir of Val Kilmer’s star power in 2000, Red Planet is about a crew sent to Mars in the near future to determine what has befallen their terraforming operation. Upon arrival, everything goes wrong, and not just for the characters in the narrative. No, once they all get to the red planet, the story meanders, too much happens, and the film falls apart. And yes, we are told via flashbacks that Kilmer and the ship’s captain, played by Carrie Ann Moss, are sort-of kind-of in love.
Ugh. We’ll come back to this, I promise…
Instead of giving a complete run-down of the film’s many many plot points and vaguely philosophical underpinnings – by way of completely ignoring its huge list of scientific inaccuracies – I just want to talk about AMEE. AMEE (which stands for Autonomous Mapping Exploration and Evasion) is a robot programmed to guide the crew around the planet and help them find the terraforming equipment that has stopped working.
AMEE, a feline-like, military grade robot, is lost in a crash landing. Kilmer was at one point able to control her with a panel on his space suit’s arm, but has also lost her signal. Figuring her for dead (because, you know, a robot has a personality and is always referred to in the feminine), the team attempts to find the site on their own, until one of them kills another while fighting over – and I’m not joking – whether or not the mission was a failure. Yes, Benjamin Bratt loses his life in this movie because they can’t agree that everything going wrong with their mission so far has been an outright failure of what was supposed to happen.
Anyway, after this happens, AMEE shows up and they notice she’s been damaged in the crash, so they attempt to shut her down and make repairs. The autonomous bot takes their actions as a threat and goes into “military mode” which apparently means she intends only to kill everything in site, no matter who they are or what they are doing at the time. While that may or may not reflect the operations of our actual military in practice, it certainly is stupid as a programming objective for a robot.
AMEE begins tracking them and eventually starts killing them, but not soon enough for my tastes. One of the corpses explodes with glowing bugs and then Tom Sizemore dies in a fiery ball as he is covered with the same insects and creates a fireball which can be seen, we are shown, from the space ship on which Moss is still stuck. How Kilmer survived that, I’ll never know. So, it has at this point been determined that AMEE’s battery alone contains enough juice to get Kilmer and Moss back to Earth, so in a majorly idiotic deus ex machina, Kilmer’s grease jockey must go toe to toe with a military-grade weapon, and wouldn’t you know it, he wins, removes her core and climbs back aboard the love boat to head on home.
Because, you see, that’s the power of love. It makes you as psychotically suicidal as this movie makes me. You no longer make any sense, like this film, if you ever made any sense at all. You probably didn’t, again like Red Planet.
It’s worth noting that NASA refused to serve as advisors to the picture, distancing themselves from it pretty heartily. A spokesman actually said of the film, “The science was just so off the wall that eventually we felt, ‘You guys go ahead and make your movie.’” Wowsa.
So yeah, Red Planet sucks. It’s boring because it has TOO much plotting. The AMEE thing, which is dumb dumb dumb by itself, is only part of it. There are equipment malfunctions that must be overcome, a remarkably breathable atmosphere for a planet where our attempt to terraform has failed, a couple of space craft crashes or near-crashes, and what the hell is up with those bugs? They explain it, but SERIOUSLY?!? I see what NASA was talking about.
But hey, at least it’s not Mission to Mars.