Don’t arrive late for “Mars Attacks” as the most fun to be had with the film is during the opening credits, a thoroughly witty, jazzy sequence with an armada of spinning saucers skittering through space to the kooky tones of Danny Elfman’s cosmic lounge march. The sequence promises improbable heights of retro fun so its a blow to the face when in the very first scene the heavyweight A-list actors make it very apparent they’re not clued in to the jest. While it’s immediately apparent that the film is satirizing milquetoast political liberalism and its inherent inability to deal with crisis situations, the humor wears thin very quickly (actually as soon as, in the initial post-title scene, Martin Short’s Presidential press secretary played as a chipmunk opens his mouth), congratulating itself on the most tepid of comedic targets while offering nothing to nourish the more demanding viewer except for endless reference points to far better, more entertaining, films. (SF enthusiasts deserve better than poking fun at Nancy Reagan’s public reputation for redressing the White House.) Jack Nicholson’s forte is not broad comedy- he’s become such an eyebrow wagging caricature that any call to further cartoon exaggeration (as in his disastrous behavior in “The Shining”) to his ham-fisted arsenal is anathema to common sense; yet in his role as President “Jimmy” Dale, the actor seems somnambulistic, bringing no sharp edges to an admittedly colorless character, his energies seemingly split by the effort of playing two separate roles without the net of an even halfway conceived role; and would someone explain the thought process behind having Nicholson play dual roles, especially since the entire Art Land subplot could be removed without any effect on the film whatsoever?
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