'JOHN Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars' is an exercise in missed opportunities. A semi-enjoyable freak fest which takes the conventions of western, horror, police and action genres and transfers them to a sinister off-world setting.
But what could have been a thoroughly enjoyable scary action romp is undermined by a cringingly hackneyed script which breaks the tension in the film and gives the whole proceedings a disappointing B-movie feel.
The story takes place in 2176 AD. Mars has long been inhabited by terraforming settlers from Earth presided over by the ruling Matriarchy.
Rich in natural minerals, Mars is now home to 640,000 people who live and work in remote mining colonies all over the planet.
But the Red Planet is hiding a dangerous and deadly secret that is about to open up like Pandora's box.
As the film begins, a driverless ghost train arrives at Chryse City. It is badly damaged and there is only one passenger on board. A female police officer Lt. Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) who is found handcuffed to a bunk wounded but alive.
She was part of a retrieval team led by Commandant Helena Braddock (Pam Grier) sent to the remote outpost of Shining Canyon to bring back an infamous criminal James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) to stand trial for murder.
The story then unfolds in overlapping point of view flashbacks within flashbacks as Ballard testifies what happened to her and the rest of the team - Jericho (Jason Statham), Bashira (Clea Duvall) and Descanso (Liam Waite) - at Shining Canyon at an investigative hearing of the ruling Matriarchy.
This is familiar territory for Carpenter as he sets up the audience for an old fashioned wild west shoot-out as it is revealed that something has possessed the miners at Shining Canyon turning them into mutilated zombie-like creatures - led by Marilyn Manson look-alike Big Daddy Mars (Richard Cetrone) - and the small band of heroes face a battle for survival against overwhelming odds.
Traces of his earlier classic work such as 'Escape from New York', 'Assault on Precinct 13' and 'The Thing' can be clearly seen as the seemingly unstoppable foe relentlessly attack in a series of atmospheric action sequences accompanied by a grinding metal score.
But unlike his earlier work there is something missing here. On a B-movie level it is silly yet enjoyable enough, but it could have been so much more.
The cast are adequate, Henstridge's portrayal of the cool headed, flawed - she is a drug user - heroine is convincing. But Ice Cube's attempt at a Snake Plissken-esque anti hero is a bit hit and miss.
The rest of the cast are badly underwritten making them mere ciphers and shallow stereotypes.
The settings and visuals are impressive and there are some very creepy early scenes which are then carelessly wasted by the ham-fisted dialogue.