If evil intergalactic aliens do indeed exist, they must surely include "Mars Attacks" amongst any arsenal designed to break the mind and spirit of rebellious earthlings. Sitting through the thing is sheer torture and I was ready to give up the names, ranks, and serial numbers of anyone and everyone in order not to endure one more nanosecond, had I, in fact, been privy to any names, ranks or serial numbers involved in any known causes of extraterrestrial interest. Without doubt, "Mars Attacks" is one of the worst films I've seen in my lifetime, and that's saying a lot.
Stuffed to the brim with Hollywood big-wiggery, "Mars Attacks" is a bomb in every sense of the word. Jack Nicholson elicits nary a chuckle, as he assumes not one, but TWO, roles, grimly grinning and mugging as both a poseur POTUS and a seedy real-estate developer (if they had been combined into one character, it might seem eerily prescient). Nicholson is at his most determinedly Jack-ish here but even that can't save "Mars Attacks": in any case, he seems more desperate than amusing. As the First Lady, Glenn Close can't seem to figure what the heck she's doing here; she appears lost and completely out of her element. Close can be funny when she has good material to work with but she's not what I'd call a natural comedienne. That's an even bigger problem for those in the cast who are, in actual fact, well-known as comedians (Martin Short, Jack Black, Michael J. Fox). The script just doesn't give them any funny lines: everything they're called on to say, and (nearly) every situation they're given just falls flat. Annette Bening, as the developer's boozy girlfriend almost has some funny moments but the writers don't allow the laughs to develop (a shame, because unlike Close, Bening is a gifted comedienne). The scenes with Sarah Jessica Parker and former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, are meant to be funny but they're merely creepy and a little gross. When a loud and obnoxious Danny DeVito is thrown in to up the noise level and compete for non-laughs, I was ready to shut it down. And yet I persevered. Thanklessly. The longer the movie goes on, the more blatantly unfunny it becomes. The only time I felt amused was during a scene when alien-in-disguise Lisa Marie sashays her way into the boudoir of horny White House Press Secretary Martin Short. For a moment there, "Mars Attacks" achieves a silly, woozy charm that only serves to highlight the deficit of such in the rest of the movie. Inexplicably, former action stars, Pam Grier and Jim Brown, appear to be on hand to bring a certain gravity (and color) to the film as there seems to be no other reason for them to be there. They aren't allowed to be funny even for a moment, and the earnestness of their characters is a jarring contrast to the idiocy of all the white folks running hither and yon. And finally there's Sylvia Sidney. Yes, Sylvia Sidney of Hollywood's Golden Age. I'll just leave that bit of info right here without further comment.
The special effects aren't all that interesting, either. I love the old sci-fi flicks of the fifties and those cheapies featured better (and cheesier) space ships and aliens than those on display here. Maybe the aliens depicted in the Topp's trading cards (upon which this film is based) look more like those in the movie, but to be honest, I've never seen the trading cards so I don't know. Onscreen, they don't look that great, though.
Whether or not the director meant this as a tribute to, or a satire of, (or both) classic fifties sci-fi, "Mars Attacks" is a colossal cosmic misfire, easily Burton's worst film, and on my own personal list of the ten worst movies ever made.