John Carpenter claims that he always intended Ghosts of Mars as an over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek film; something like Commando or Rambo: First Blood Part II. I have no reason to doubt him. He had made those sort of films before, the plot of the film is suitably schlocky, and in Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Pam Grier and Jason Statham he had four actors in the cast who had, or would go on to, shine in those sort of films. However…
Ghosts of Mars is a dog.
It isn’t as if they didn’t make an effort. They died a New Mexican gypsum mine red with gallons of food colouring to make it look like Mars. They just put all the effort in the wrong places. A better script might have saved the film. If they had put as much work into something with decent dialogue and less flashbacks as they did pouring Dr Oetker red velvet colouring gel onto an actual mine? Who knows? More pertinently, who cares? Ghosts of Mars is what it is: a disappointing film from a director who, at his peak, created some of the most influential films of the seventies and eighties. Give the guy a break. Nobody is perfect.
And anyway, we are here to talk about Statham, not Carpenter. How did he cope in the smallish role he was given in the thundering cackfest of a film that was to be his Hollywood debut? Not well, it turns out. Not well at all.
It doesn’t help that Sergeant Jericho Butler is the first proper knobhead that Statham played in his career. Sure, Bacon (Lock, Stock) is a bit of a liability, and Mr B. (Turn It Up) threatens to slice people on meat slicers, but they didn’t spend a film trying to wear somebody down until they agree to have sex with them. Jericho is a right proper jerk. He’s creepy and boring. Don’t get me wrong, everyone was dealt a bad hand, casting wise, and he was definitely luckier than Pam Grier who (spoiler) ends up decapitated and displayed on a pike within the first ten minutes of the film. But this was probably the first time in Statham’s career when it looked like the up curve of his success was rounding off, perhaps even dipping. It’s not that he’s bad in Ghosts of Mars – he’s no worse than anyone or anything else in it – but he doesn’t own the screen as he did in Snatch. It would have been a fair judgement at the time to think his star was fading as quickly as it rose. It could have killed Statham’s career. It pretty much did Carpenter’s.
So, the thing I learned from watching Ghosts of Mars was… don’t give up on people.
But my arbitrary score for Ghosts of Mars is still .. two Stathams out of ten.