Too much of everything; Not enough of something
Mars Attacks schlocks up the classic 1950s alien invasion pictures. The film opens with Danny Elfman's eerily rising score through the opening credits. We see well-patterned fleets of Martian UFOs heading towards Earth. On Earth, we have a wide-ranging group of ordinary people and government officials. When the Martians first arrive, we greet them friendly. We, in turn, get a rude awakening as the aliens zap-fry whole masses of people, taking others (the big-name stars who need screen-time for their contracts, of course) captive aboard their ships for experimentation.
The acting is--hold on. Let me first introduce you to one of the most superfluously large casts on record. Ahem. Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Christina Applegate, Jack Black, Martin Short, Rod Steiger, and even Tom Jones (as himself). So you would assume that the acting would be good, no?
Let's back up (bear with me, I know I'm working backwards). What constitutes good acting in a film like this? Obviously we aren't looking for Oscar-caliber moments, nor do we want raw sincerity. I'm going to tell you what I believe should (key word) be in a picture like this: self-awareness. It's the quality of both the screenwriter and the actor to blatantly shout the humor in the material. It's the effort to overdo each expression. None of the actors or actresses in this picture perform this way. They all play their roles with either a loony uncertainty or an overbearing directness.
Self-awareness, as mentioned, is something that must show up in front of, and behind, the camera. Director Tim Burton really misses the mark with this picture. The film is bafflingly unfunny. None of the characters are amusing. The aliens can't support much of anything (even though they are given a large amount of screen-time). Conceptually, this is a fine idea for a picture. But the movie is so wrong-headedly executed, so financially overstuffed, and so noisily aggressive that it's just a mess.
I mentioned this at the beginning of my review, and I'll mention it again. Simply rehashing old material to poke fun at it is NOT funny. There must be a clever wit or comedic alteration to the familiar moments to make them funny. This movie is all inspiration and no execution. I will be honest. If this is a film that I simply misunderstood, I will accept that claim. I still do not understand this picture.
Mars Attacks only proves that unique is not always good. Many moviegoers tend to like a film just because they've never seen anything like it before. This film is watchable, if only for the hope that SOMETHING will spark on screen. I've never seen a movie with so much inspiration executed so lifelessly.