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My Favorite Martian

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 12 February 1999

  Directed by Donald Petrie

Starring Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Daniels,
Elizabeth Hurley, Daryl Hannah, Wallace Shawn,
Christine Ebersole, Michael Lerner, and Ray Walston

Written by Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver

Well, the good news about this spiffy-looking but empty-headed update of the old 1960s sitcom is you won’t wonder about losing 90-plus minutes of your life. The bad news is that you have be ten or younger to enjoy the good news. For anyone old enough to remember with affection the three years in the mid-1960s when we were all glued to our glorious black-and-white sets every Sunday evening, I offer a big suggestion. Check out your cable channels for reruns of the adventures of Uncle Martin and reporter Tim O’Hara for a half-hour of fun and leave the new Disney schlock for the youngsters.

The original series premise is now very much a stretched out half-hour sitcom pilot retread sprinkled with (actual) toilet humor and kiddy-giggle stuff. The bathroom sequence probably has Richard Strauss turning over in his grave for the filmmakers’ use of his Also Sprach Zarathustra (a.k.a. the theme from 2001) in such a tasteless situation. The script by Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver, responsible for Casper and contributors to TV’s Animaniacs and Tiny Toons, is, likewise, written on a grade-school level.

Ambitious/struggling television producer Tim O’Hara (Jeff Daniels), promoted from the newspaper reporter ranks of 30 years ago (then filled by Bill Bixby) but still driving a 1962 Plymouth Valiant, stumbles onto the crash landing of a martian spacecraft bearing a slimy but appealing tri-eyed creature with wily ways (looking like a Y2K version of the extraterrestrial in 1985’s The Explorers). Taking on human form thanks to intergalactic chewing gum, whimsical "Uncle Martin" (Christopher Lloyd) endears himself to Tim, who reluctantly hides his new friend’s origins (foregoing his chance at a Pulitzer!) from the prying, attractive neighbor/landlady/widow Lorelei Brown (Christine Ebersole); the bumbling, lame-brained scientists at SETI; his bombastic employer (Michael Lerner); and the boss’s bubble-headed, bitch of a daughter Brace (Elizabeth Hurley, longtime friend of Estee Lauder and Hugh Griffin), a budding newscaster with a brain the size of her cleavage. She needs off-air coaching with words longer than one syllable.

The location of our story has drifted up the coast from 1960s Los Angeles to present-day Santa Barbara, and the film has a bright, colorful saturation in it broadening from the small screen, but director Donald Petrie has his cast plodding about, much as he did in Richie Rich and Opportunity Knocks. He still hasn’t re-found the freshness evident in his debut feature Mystic Pizza.

Leads Jeff Daniels and Christopher Lloyd are pleasant enough, with the former playing an earnest and somewhat more intelligent, preppy variation of his Dumb and Dumber character, while Lloyd maintains a loony center in a frenzied exterior, in line with his Reverend Jim creation in Taxi and his portrayal Dr. Emmett Brown in the Back to the Future films.

There are a few new characters fleshing out the film, including love interest Lizzie (Daryl Hannah looked very tired in one of the worst make up jobs I’ve seen in a long time), part of Tim’s tech support staff; Wallace Shawn, usually likeable, but here a noxious cretin phonetically identified as Dr. E. Coleye, a SETI specialist who gets his comeuppance when he swallows the wrong chiclet; and the original martian himself, Ray Walston, as the mysterious martian, whose true nature is but an anagram away. He and Shawn make throwaway references to the old series ("Just like the incident of ‘64"), but these were lost on the young crowd populating the preview I attended. The only reference to the late Bill Bixby is a cheap shot of Hannah wearing a Hulk T-shirt. Billed ninth in the cast list is "Zoot … as himself," a wise-cracking, over-sexed, polymorphic, computer generated alien leisure suit that has some of the best lines (voiced by an uncredited Wayne Knight -- at least it sounds like him -- aka Newman from Seinfeld) when it’s not getting off during the spin cycle in Tim’s washing machine with a Downy martini in hand and a Victoria’s Secret catalog in the other.

That’s another annoying feature. The film’s overuse of product placement at every street corner: Ace Hardware, Hawaiian Tropic tanning lotion, Post Cocoa Pebbles, Quaker Oats, Lipton Tea, Roto-Rooter, Dreyers Ice Cream, ad nauseum. There’s an obvious reference to television’s X-Files, even though this is not a Fox production. Watch the trades next week as the fourth network files a suite alleging plagiarism and slander against the Mouse Kingdom.

As translations to the silver screen go, this one falls just below the middle of the pack, considering such disasters as The Avengers, Lost in Space, Sergeant Bilko, and Car 54 Where Are You? It’s innocuous enough for the younger crowd. If you’ve read this far, consider waiting for a cable ride or video rental this trip around. My Favorite Martian is Kid Kute. All others need not apply.

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