As you would expect there are aliens in Mars Needs Moms, and they speak Martian. The makers of this wretched film saw no need to translate and, to be fair, nor is there any: no matter how incoherent their gibberish is, you don’t need to understand it to get the gist, and to try to would be to miss the point.
And that about sums up this film: that it is largely incoherent makes no odds; so diligently is it structured by rote you know exactly what is going on, how it will end and each of the Stations of the Cross you’ll pass through on the miserable journey that is sitting through it.
Usually, I like bad films. There’s a voyeuristic pleasure in observing public displays of ineptitude. It’s fun reviewing them. It’s challenging trying to unpick what went wrong. Badness, in its way, can be entertaining and stimulating. But not with this picture.
There is much to admire but nothing at all to like about Mars Needs Moms.
There undoubted artisanship (some of which is revealed during the closing credits) in the physical performances required of actors, trussed up in rubber suits, donning CGI headsets and with motion detectors up the wazoo. But these days, it’s still ho-hum: we have ceased to be thrilled or even distracted by excellent digital rendering. Technological achievement is a given.
But it gives not nearly enough to make this experience worthwhile. A bad trip in cinematic 3-D is still a bad trip. You do wonder if they wouldn’t have been better just filming the blessed thing and painting in the background. At least, that way, we could see the real (and eminently admirable) Joan Cusack rather than her ugly, animated approximation.
You also wonder whose bright idea the film’s basic premise was. It’s a stinker: Mars is short of mums – sorry, *moms* – to bring up the Martian young. This shortage they overcome by abducting earthling mothers, sucking their mothering skills out of them (naturally, by pointing a concentrated beam of pure sunlight at their brains and vaporising them) and infusing the extracted essence of motherhood into “nannybots” which the Martians use to raise their young. (How, you might ask? More to the point, why? Wouldn’t an intensive week’s course in parenting skills from the Earthlings be a better, less wasteful thing?)
So to the action. The Martians target suburban mid west America (and not Cambodia, Italy or the Sudan) for their ideal mom. They kidnap Joan Cusack’s ugly avatar while her child Milo (even uglier) frets in his bed that he hasn’t appreciated his mom enough. Guiltily he hops out of bed, sees flashing lights under the door (you know, a la Close Encounters) and gives chase while the aliens whisk her away, yielding enough Oedipal innuendo to last a lifetime: Well, at least someone appreciates her. Cue adventure.
The Martians, it turns out, are run by an humourless old bat apparently modelled on an elderly Japanese lady, a character lending the film a weak misogynistic current and a stronger xenophobic one. But whatever the underlying politics, the set-up is just stupid: could they really not think of anything better than that? Martians kidnapping moms? Is this what now passes for wit?
Continuity errors and illogicalities abound: on Mars, the Martians walk around in space suits. Apparently they don’t need them on Earth.
So Milo, of course, stows away, planning to rescue his stupefied mother (Cusack, too, must have been stupefied to agree to this). On arrival on Mars the semblance of dramatic or narrative artistry is jettisoned and the computer whizzkids are allowed to take over. The pace explodes, we’re galloping around assorted tableaux ripped off from other films (Tron, Close Encounters, Wall-E, Star Wars, Toy Story 3, Avatar, even Labyrinth), meeting new characters none of whom are explained, contextualised or justified and all of whom act in unaccountable ways.
Most frenetic, over excited and irritating is Gribble (Dan Fogler), an Earthling left over from a previous mission. (Yes: we’ve been here before. Did they run out of Earth mom serum to inject their robots with?) Gribble isn’t at all funny, though that doesn’t seem to be how Fogler sees it. His performance, and really the whole film, reminded me of a recent Charlie Sheen interview. For those who haven’t seen one, think Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. In a bad way.
It is possible to surf over this tidal wave of absurdity because, no matter how little anything makes sense on a micro-level, on a macro level so slavish is this film’s devotion to formula we know who the good guy is (Milo – even if it’s tremendously hard to like him), we know who the bad guy is, and we know who the selfish, flawed helper is who comes through in the end. As the film stampedes towards its ridiculous conclusion there is a breathtakingly cynical swipe at emotion that only Disney would dream of trying to get away with – a straight-red-card, two-footed lunge of a leg breaker that is so grim I can’t find the fortitude to even tell you about it.
I walked out of the theatre grumpier than I’d entered it, and as neither of my kids enjoyed the film much either (by consensus the best bit was when Cujo the cat threw up three minutes in – and you can see that on the trailer), I was only returned to good humour when I heard that this film has created a Martian-sized crater at the box office.
Director: Simon Wells
Stars: Seth Green, Joan Cusack, Dan Fogler
Runtime: 88 min