In space, they say, no one can hear you scream. It's probably because of all that jolly Ennio Morricone music. It jangles heartily when you're sucking your Dr Pepper out of a plastic pouch. It cha-cha booms like a Mexican sitcom score when you are perilously hurtling towards atmospheric burn-up. It cues up the dramatic moments - - pah, pah, pah, PAH! - - like a Sale Of The Century organist, as awesomely strong forces of Martian meteorology fling your astronaut buddy up in the air and (kids!) pull his arms and legs off. It's not all like that (at one point the space crew do some weightless "twisting" to Van Halen instead), but the music to Mission To Mars is so intrusive and idiotic that it sets up the film, right from the get-go, as the biggest twinkler in the firmament of camp.
Whether this is what the good folks at NASA had in mind is another matter entirely. For, with their mighty seal proudly endorsing this half-baked piece of popcorn, one supposes that they (like the makers of Red Planet, blasting off later this year) were after a rocketing Saturday nighter to capitalise on the explosion of interest that accompanied the Pathfinder landing of 1997, not to mention that Arctic meteor thing with the microbe in it - and, doubtless, help ante up a few bob for a manned mission of their very own in the not-too-distant.
Mission To Mars, or M2M (or M&M judging by all the product placement), might convince the US government to blow their cash on something more fun. For, caught between the worlds of kick-ass space adventure (Armageddon) and philosophical galactic meditation (Contact), neither of which seem intent on colliding, the end result is a film that drifts as aimlessly as the Space Family Robinson. Such a shame, as all the ingredients are there: Brian De Palma, the bull-headed auteur renowned for his massive technical shots, deft actors like Robbins, Sinise and Cheadle, and a set-up that bodes favourably. Indeed, the one thing to recommend this sack of spaceballs is NASA's involvement, as the hardware employed here is based firmly in science-fact. The spacecraft, Mars habitats, space suits, et al were all intriguingly knocked up from design blueprints currently lying on Mission Control's drawing board. The ruddy vistas of Earth's neighbouring rock, too, are reproduced faithfully by De Palma, a frustratingly wasted resource in a piece of space-borne fluff like this.
And though Mission To Mars does offer a couple of FX stunts that will garner a mention - a sort of Martian Twister attack being the most notable - nothing can offset the fact that this bonfire of inanities steals scenes wholesale and shamelessly from The Mummy, 2001, Close Encounters and The Abyss, or that the committee-generated dialogue has reduced actors of real calibre to the level of wooden reciters in a school pantomime (Sinise, for good measure, undergoing some inexplicable am dram eyeliner application - hey, it gets awful lonely up there). Houston, we have a problem...