This was an interesting case of what a newspaper is willing to publish and what it isn’t. (Or maybe just a case of an editor knowing crap when he or she reads it, and demanding a new version.) The first version was what I originally wrote. They asked for a different, more traditional take; mostly, actually, for legal reasons. I tried the ‘fake conversation between Hollywood folk’ approach again later and it worked, so this was a useful draft attempt. I’m constantly working on trying to make dialogue sound natural and real. My take, for fiction readers especially, is that if you feel like you’re ‘reading’ dialogue, then it’s not working and I’m failing as a writer..

MY FAVOURITE MARTIAN  (1999)

DIRECTOR: Donald Petrie

CAST: Jeff Daniels, Christopher Lloyd, Daryl Hannah, Liz Hurley

(93 mins, PG)

One and a half stars

By Nick Place

My Favourite Martian, the movie.
My Favourite Martian, the movie.

A conversation that may or may not happen 30 years from now in the Hollywood Hills Last Encore Retirement Home for Actors:

Three old-timers who look a lot like former stars Jeff Daniels (now 74), Daryl Hannah (69) and Christopher Lloyd (91) are leaning against the bar, drinking whisky sodas:

Hannah: “ … boy, that’s a tough one. ‘The stupidest film I ever made’?”

Lloyd: “ … is this a different conversation from the time we discussed our ‘Worst Career Decisions’?”

Daniels: “Yeah, don’t start up on Baby Geniuses again, please. Purely and simply, this is to nominate the film where you found yourself watching the rushes, thinking: ‘Oh my God! How did my agent get me into this?’”

Lloyd: “Jeez, where do I start? The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension? Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Toonstruck? In Search of Dr Seuss? I’ve had a million of ’em.”

Daniels: “What are you worried about? I made my name with Woody Allen in Purple Rose of Cairo and ended up in Trial and Error, alongside that guy trying not to be Cosmo Kramer any more.”

Lloyd: “What about you, Daryl? Splash?”

Hannah: “I think my stupidest film would be either Attack of the 50 Foot Woman or Memoirs of an Invisible Man.”

Lloyd: “Two words, Jeff: Dumb and Dumber.”

Daniels: “Sigh. Yeah, you’re right … that was a long way from Terms of Endearment, that’s for sure.”

(Reflective silence.)

Lloyd: “Hang on a second! … What was that film we all appeared in together? Back in Ninety-nine, I think it was.”

Daniels: “Oh yeah! It was among that swarm of unwatchable remakes of Sixties TV shows that Hollywood was so obsessed with in the Nineties.”

Hannah:My Favourite Martian!

Lloyd: “That’s it! What a shocker!”

Daniels: “I played a bumbling TV producer. Clutzy but loveable. Daryl was my camerawoman-stroke-love interest, and Christopher, you played the Martian!”

Lloyd: “I come and live with you. You secretly tape me because you know it’s the story of the century but then have to decide between our blossoming friendship and the Pulitzer Prize. Gee, which way will that plot go?”

Hannah: “Oh God, and it had that English chick who couldn’t act to save herself but looked good. Did that cosmetics campaign and had that floppy-haired partner, Hugh something. Disgraced himself that time.”

Lloyd: “Oh, behave, Daryl! … My Favourite Martian. The humor was so lame.”

Daniels: “There was that one good scene where we drove our car out of a toilet.”

Lloyd: “Remember I had this animated Martian spacesuit that actually got all the good lines?”

Daniels: “Yeah, it somehow knew a swag of Earthly pop culture references, from Motown songs to advertising jingles, when you, as its owner, didn’t even know what ice cream was.”

Hannah: “The film was trying to be part-E.T., part Men In Black, part Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.”

Daniels: “… and ended up being about an eighth as good as any of them.”

Lloyd: “I spent the whole movie doing my standard crazy bug-eye routines.”

Hannah: Well, that’s what you get for being too good at the crazy eye stuff  in the Back To The Future series.”

Lloyd: “Oh, come on. You were a hit in Splash but nobody made you wear a giant fish tail for the rest of your career.”

(Reflective silence.)

Lloyd: “I wonder whatever happened to that English chick?”

Hannah: “Dunno. Probably ended up married with six kids to that git.”

Daniels: “Come on children. Be nice.”

Lloyd: “Hey, look over there! Alec Guinness. … Bartender!”

and let’s try that again …

MY FAVOURITE MARTIAN, second draft:

Picture this: you drop by a friend’s house. He takes a long time to answer the door and then, when he does, he talks in a completely different voice, his eyes are rolling crazily, he’s lurching around, and wearing a silver bodysuit that independently talks.

Do you assume:

a)    your friend is on strange substances,

b)   your friend has just attempted to sit through an entire episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

c)   your friend has been taken over by an alien life-form?

d)   All of the above.

Christopher Lloyd, being careful not to over-act.
Christopher Lloyd, being careful not to over-act.

In a film like My Favourite Martian, the important point is that nobody notices a thing. In fact, far from being shocked or curious about the man’s totally inexplicable behaviour, the girl at the door is instantly love struck when he lunges forward and unexpectedly tongue kisses her (with a purple, multi-pronged tongue, no less).

In other words, don’t just leave your brain at the door for this one. Leave your brain in a different postcode.

While it’s easy to write off such clumsily played and plotted scenes in what is, after all, a kid’s comedy, the reality is that it’s a little insulting – even to the target eight-year-olds – when the audience is repeatedly required to make so many leaps of faith for even the basic premise to hold up.

Of course, if this film was funny enough or quirky enough, you’d forgive such lame fundamentals. But it is neither and cracks under even the most basic critical analysis.

My Favourite Martian is the latest Sixties TV show remake to roll off the now jaded Hollywood production line. To the producers’ credit, they haven’t completely over-used the CGI special effects now at hand, as Lost In Space did. But in trying to revive such an old vehicle, they’ve ended up falling somewhere between E.T., Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Men In Black. Which puts them into comedy’s Twilight Zone.

The storyline goes that a bumbling TV producer potentially saves his job when he stumbles on the Story Of A Lifetime by witnessing  a UFO crash. He picks up the spaceship (which has shrunk to convenient post-film merchandising size) and heads home.

Once there, the Martian reveals himself and some hilarious physical comedy ensues – at least, maybe if you’re a pre-schooler. From there, it’s all an attempted sitcom scenario of mistaken identity, odd-couple humor, zany slapstick physical comedy and the blossoming of an unlikely friendship.

In other words, it’s all pretty predictable and doesn’t go anywhere that Third Rock From The Sun hasn’t been repeatedly in the past few years.

Christopher Lloyd plays “Uncle Martin” as though he’s the bad guy bug from Men In Black on speed. If there was an Academy Award for Crazy Eye Acting and Double Take Acting, Lloyd would have more Oscars than Titanic and Shakespeare in Love combined.

Jeff Daniels is left to play the straight-man role of the bumbling TV producer with a heart. First Dumb & Dumber; now this. Daniels must feel as though he’s finished the millennium an awfully long way from Purple Rose of Cairo and Terms of Endearment – especially when an animated space suit is given the few good lines.

The actresses have it even worse. Liz Hurley makes yet another attempt at proving she’s a comic actress and fails although, to be fair, she hasn’t got much to work with here.

Daryl Hannah, after suffering through this cliched and one-dimensional role as Daniels’ love interest, must look back fondly to the meaty intellectualism of Splash! and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.