Mars Attacks, 1997. Directed by Tim Burton. Jack Nicholson, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Pierce Brosnan, Joe Don Baker, Martin Short, Danny DeVito, Jim Brown, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Glenn Close, Annette Benning, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pam Grier, Lisa Marie

Of all of Tim Burton's movies, Mars Attacks probably has the least amount of substance­an amazing feat given how little substance movies like Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice actually have. Not that that's a criticism, mind you, but it dooms his movies, particularly this movie, in the myth pool. Lacking any real substance, it doesn't stick with you for very long. Even so, it's AWFULLY funny. Based on the trading cards from the early sixties, Mars Attacks lovingly recreates the sci-fi of the period. There are echoes from The Day the Earth Stood Still, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The War of the Worlds, and (especially) Plan 9 From Outer Space here: its major settings are (as they should be) Washington and the Nevada desert, the characters are cut and pasted from those movies whole, and the production design never heard of Syd Mead or H.R.Giger. Hell, it even has a dictorobiter (and for those of you who don't know what that is, that's just too bad).

The plot of the movie follows the standard fifties sci-fi plot well over the line into absurdity, but just how absurd is open to question­saving the world with Slim Whitman records is really no sillier than the gobbledigook solution in, say, The Beginning of the End, for instance. This is a movie with very little sense of social conscience. Its set pieces get their laughs in part because of their sheer meanness (in one characteristic scene, a flying saucer teeters the Washington Monument just right in order to topple it onto a troop of cub scouts). The movie as a whole is a colossal misanthropic prank at just about everyone's expense and all of the big stars in the movie get killed off in gleefully morbid fashion. Even at the end, after the Martians have been defeated, Mars Attacks still manages to ruthlessly lampoon any hippy-dippy messages of peace and love by pointing out just how banal they are. In a Hollywood climate leaning dangerously toward dripping sentimental bushwa, this is a welcome relief. This is a deliciously strange mountain of popcorn. It's just a shame that popcorn doesn't stick with you for very long.