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"The Last Days on Mars" 

Christmas stars

Despite mostly skipping theaters and receiving a quiet release on Video On Demand, I had hopes that "The Last Days On Mars" might turn out to be an undiscovered gem. It has impressive production values, an audience-friendly, sci-fi thriller premise, a talented cast including Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Elias Koteas, and Tom Cullen, and received a world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival. All good inidicators. And for the first 20 minutes or so, I felt confident I was right. The film takes place during the final 19 hours of the six-month Aurora Mars Mission, whose crew is searching for signs of life on the Red Planet. The opening section sets the mood effectively, with the crew isolated and antsy to get back home.

But then, one of the astronauts breaks protocol to go off and investigate a "microscopic anomaly," which turns out to be a bacteria that infects the blood and causes once-dead crew members to come back to angry, bloodthirsty life. That's right: space zombies! From there, the film turns into another "Alien" rip-off (with a bit of the David Tennant-era "Doctor Who" episode, "The Waters of Mars," thrown in for good measure), as the crew is picked off one by one. An "Alien" retread can be effective if done well, but director Ruairi Robinson's incomprehensibly shot action sequences don't help matters. The cast does what it can, but there's only so much to be wrought from limp, clichéd genre material.

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