Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle My Favorite Martian

By Marc Savlov

FEBRUARY 15, 1999: 

D: Donald Petrie; with Jeff Daniels, Christopher Lloyd, Elizabeth Hurley, Daryl Hannah, Wallace Shawn, Christine Ebersole, Ray Walston, Michael Lerner. (PG, 93 min.)

There will come a day when Hollywood finally runs dry of Sixties television shows to adapt to the big screen. That day hasn't come yet, obviously, but it will, and then what? Forward to Quincy, M.E.: The Movie, and Bosom Buddies: Sinister Queen, I suspect. It's only a matter time. This Disneyfied update of the old CBS curiosity, which ran from 1963 to 1966, isn't as embarrassingly trite as, say, Car 54, Where Are You? but neither is it likely to take home any awards in the originality department. Daniels, mastering the art of the buffaloed double-take, fills in for the late Bill Bixby as Santa Barbara television producer Tim O'Hara, who one night witnesses the crash of an alien craft while tooling down the Pacific Coast Highway. The ship is piloted by a renegade Martian played with shameless gusto by Lloyd, an actor who more and more seems to have arrived from some alternate future where all actors mug like Jim Carrey at an awards presentation. With his craft damaged, Lloyd enlists the help of Tim (who introduces this silver-spacesuited wiseacre to the neighbors as his Uncle Martin). Also drafted into assistance is Tim's co-worker Lizzie (Hannah) since Uncle Martin is being pursued by a loopy gang of sci-fi toughs from SETI, led by TV's original Martian Ray Walston and a hyperkinetic Wallace Shawn. (No one appears to have told the writers, Sherry Stoner and Danna Oliver, that SETI -- the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life -- like the proverbial X-Files, has long since been retired by its NASA overlords. Does it matter? Not a whit.) Toss into this mix Hurley as the conniving newswoman Brace Channing and Ebersole as the nosy paramour-next-door, and you have mass comedy chaos, or so the pitch presumably went. In reality, Petrie (Richie Rich) has crafted a snuffling dog of a comedy that's far too reliant on less-than-amazing CGI effects. Among these are Uncle Martin's ambulatory spacesuit named Zoot, and some truly abrasive chicanery revolving around space gumballs that allow the chewer to transform into an alien being. Kudos, though, to Hannah for transforming into a multi-tentacled she-beast in the film's latter third; the Acme Novelty horror of it all puts you in mind of Sean Young, and it's a kick to watch her/it devour the bad guys. That aside, My Favorite Martian is notable only for the return of Wallace Shawn in yet another role that most would consider far beneath him. This isn't Andre he noshing with, nor is it Uncle Vanya. You've got to wonder what Shawn's father, the late, great William Shawn, former editor of The New Yorker magazine, would have thought of his son's acting choices of late, though it's perhaps for the best that we'll never know. On the plus side, the film opens with a new Mickey Mouse and Pluto short which may indeed be the single worst piece of animated output the Disney studio has ever created. That alone is worth the price of admission on the "so bad it's good" scale -- if you're into that sort of thing, that is.
1.0 stars


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