With Mars Attacks, director Tim Burton has created not only an instant cult hit, but a very offbeat black comedy that parodies martian invasion films, disaster films, and many aspects of our popular culture. It begins in the time-honored disaster film tradition by introducing its cast of characters, and what a large cast it is. The film focuses on three cities: Washington, Las Vegas, and Perkinsville, Kansas. On the Washington front, there is the first family (President Jack Nicholson, First Lady Glenn Close, and daughter Natalie Portman), a sex-starved White House staffer (Martin Short), a know-it-all scientific advisor (Pierce Brosnan), a war-mongering general (Rod Steiger), and a peace-loving general (Paul Winfield). Also in Washington is the bus-driving ex-wife (Pam Grier) of a former heavyweight champion (Jim Brown), now a showpiece at a casino is Las Vegas, and their two video-game loving sons. In Vegas, there’s shady real estate developer Art Land (Jack Nicholson again), his new agey wife (Annette Bening), and a compulsive gambling lawyer (Danny DeVito). In Perkinsville, the action focuses primarily on the white trash Norris family (Joe Don Baker and O-Lan Jones), their military son Billy-Glenn (Jack Black), Billy-Glenn’s slutty girlfriend (Christina Applegate), and the donut-shop working son Richard (Lukas Haas). As if that weren’t enough cast members, there are also two journalists competing for coverage of the event, a respectable GNN reporter (Michael J. Fox), and a brainlessly trendy fashion reporter (Sarah Jessica Parker). And there are even more…but on with the review. After an impressive opening credits sequence in which wave after wave of flying saucers are launched from Mars, the film bogs down a bit in it’s exposition. The problem stems from its large cast (and still, with only an hour and a half running time, very few characters get more than perfunctory development). It’s not that too much time is given to the character introductions (given the cast size, it’s actually rather efficient), but the sheer number of individuals eats up the minutes. When the martians finally attack, the film really starts to roll. The scenes of martian destruction are gruesome (don’t take the kiddies), but darkly humorous. Three quarters of the all-star cast are killed in inventive and unusual ways, and half the fun is guessing who will get slaughtered next, and how. Mars Attacks pulls out all the stops, and doesn’t back down. The film’s creepy style and odd and bizarre sense of humor takes a while to get used to, but at the end of the film, you’ll either love it or hate it. The film is not for all tastes. If you’re squeamish, have a hatred for all things Tim Burton, or believe that disaster flicks like Independence Day are shrines to be revered rather than poked fun at, stay away. For everyone else, see Mars Attacks with an offbeat sense of humor intact, and you’ll have a great time.
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