March 8, 2012 at 10:47 PM ET
A comedy released earlier this month, "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," played off the joke that the two stars were given a billion dollars to make a movie and managed to make a flop. How can that happen? A BILLION dollars? Why, you could hire the best actors, award-winning writers, conjure up amazing sets and dazzling special effects...
But it doesn't seem like that much of a joke this week. A quarter of a billion dollars was spent on Disney's "John Carter," and it's sadly awful.
"Tarzan" author Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote 11 volumes about Carter in the early 1900s, and there's promise in the concept. Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Confederate veteran who finds himself transported to Mars, called "Barsoom" by its natives, and ends up leaping into a war and a new life. There could be something fresh and fun in that, and in the depiction of Mars as envisioned decades before we even went to the moon.
But "John Carter" doesn't play off that. Instead, we're only reminded of how many better films have used some of these elements, from "Star Wars" to "Avatar" to "Lord of the Rings" and even "Gladiator."
Viewers might be willing to cut the dated content some slack if the film sped along and entertained, but when it drags and stumbles, it's easy to snicker at dialogue like "Will you stay and fight for Helium?" or at the fact that Carter's one great asset on Mars is his ability to bounce great distances like a superball.
Good luck keeping the various human-looking Martian warriors straight, figuring out why the bald-headed Therns are important, or caring about the relationships between the four-armed green species, the Tharks. There's also a weapon made of swirly blue light and something called the "ninth ray," which was so hastily dropped in and out of the plot that it's easy to wonder if pages fell out of the script. You'd think with a quarter of a billion dollars they could buy a stapler.