Likable leading players, brisk pacing and gorgeous wide-screen cinematography by Peter Suschitzky (Mars Attacks!) aren’t nearly enough to overcome cardboard characters, a trite plot, inane dialogue (no less than three speeches by people wanting to be left to die for the good of the others and/or mankind in general) and a typically dismal computer-generated “monster” named AMEE (think K-9 from Doctor Who on a rampage). Granted, the cast members manage to spout their seemingly also computer-generated dialogue (usually not too long after the viewer has guessed what they’re going to say) with straight faces in a manner that makes it almost believable. And that’s no mean feat in this sea of witlessness. The plot of Red Planet is such a staple of standard science fiction — the Earth is dying so it has become necessary to make Mars a viable alternative (presumably so we can then destroy it) — that it’s embarrassing to find anyone recycling such stuff in this day and age. Apparently, the makers of Red Planet were of the opinion that adding the wrinkle of attempting to generate oxygen on Mars — by the establishment of algae colonies — would transform the film’s hoary concept into something original. It doesn’t. Nor does the introduction into the proceedings of hordes of — computer-generated, of course — highly flammable, antisocial, algae-munching, oxygen-producing “nematodes” (they resemble nothing so much as cicadas with Day-Glo intestines) help. What pulls the film into something vaguely watchable is the cast. Val Kilmer (Heat) grapples gamely with his noncharacter and barely skirts disaster on the strength of his own personality. Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) emerges in much the same manner, with the bonus of a highly-touted (and very PG-13) shower scene — which is either the most blatant marketing ploy imaginable, or the stupidest and most unbelievable variation to date on the idea of the hero and heroine “meeting cute.” Moss has the most thankless role in the film, spending most of the proceedings alone — hobnobbing with a computer aboard the spaceship — while the rest of the cast engage in the unfortunate exploration of the “red planet” itself. That she manages to make her character memorable at all is a testimony to her charisma and acting talent. The other cast members are not much better served, with poor Terence Stamp (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) in possibly the worst role of his career: a philosophical, self-sacrificing scientist who was probably glad to be the first fatality on the mission. First-time director Antony Hoffman (previously associated with TV commercials) manages to keep the film vigorously on the go most of the time, but there’s just no winning with this script. It is, however, a refreshing change to find ourselves aboard a spaceship that isn’t fogged-up with the obligatory smoke that seems to have permeated every science-fiction opus since Ridley Scott’s Alien. Unfortunately, this is hardly enough reason to recommend Red Planet, which is ultimately just-barely-passable, high-gloss rubbish.