Every time a new John Carpenter flick appears, a certain group of film-loving fantasists get a nostalgic look in their eyes and start muttering about a potential return to form, harking back to The Thing, Halloween and Dark Star. Studios are obviously wise to this, for while his film titles have almost always officially born the prefix "John Carpenter's...", it's only in the last few years that marketing bods have started ramming his authorship down audiences throats. Hence we get John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars, from a director who hasn't lived up to his reputation for at least 15 years.
But you know what? We don't care. Not if Carpenter on autopilot can produce 98 minutes as mindlessly enjoyable as these. Yes, it's a lazily plotted, half-arsed remake of his pared-down '70s thriller Assault On Precinct 13 (itself a riff on Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo). Yes, it has some of the choicest cuts of ham acting you'll see this, or any other, year. And, yes, Carpenter composed the soundtrack with veteran thrash metallers Anthrax. But in a cinematic action landscape where the likes of Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds do healthy box office, Ghosts... is a shot of adrenaline for lovers of brainless beat-'em-ups.
Natasha Henstridge makes an able John Wayne substitute in this sci-fi Western, while Ice Cube shelves the impressive `proper' acting of Three Kings in order to beat hell out of his Martian foes. Manifesting themselves as a red mist, the ghosts enter humans and turn them into flesh-piercing, enemy-skinning beasts with a penchant for decapitation.
The Martian-possession angle should set up some Thing-like suspicion between characters, but Carpenter clearly can't be bothered. He also wastes the talented Clea DuVall in a half-written role, and Joanna Cassidy's irritating doctor is a no-laughs version of Austin Powers' Basil Exposition.
But while the ending is embarrassing and the flashback structure keeps things largely suspense-free, the action soars in a series of increasingly frenetic and grisly set-pieces, which revel in an enjoyably gruesome sense of humour.
In fact, there are plenty of laughs, though probably not all intentional. Jason Statham's screen charisma compensates somewhat for his dodgy, gor'blimey dialogue delivery, but it's impossible not to giggle when he spouts lines such as "We've got a situation here,"upon finding a row of heads on stakes.
But whether the laughs are deliberate or not is a moot point - however you look at it, Ghosts Of Mars is the perfect way to spend a silly, beery night out.