Mr. Movie

‘The Martian’ a good place to be stranded for a couple of hours

Gary Wolcott

Mr. Movie

Matt Damon stars in “The Martian.”
Matt Damon stars in “The Martian.” 20th Century Fox

The Martian is Robinson Crusoe on Mars. I know, that title was grabbed by a cheesy sci-fi flick in 1964. And — truthfully — the movie’s title is as cheesy as the 1960s film. But that’s really what The Martian is.

A man on a Mars mission is left behind. All that’s missing is his Friday.

The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s popular novel. I’m told director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard (World War Z) are faithful to the book. I can’t say if that’s true, but I can say it’s the first film Scott — who has always been a great storyteller but whose last efforts Prometheus and Exodus: Gods and Kings bombed big time — has done in a decade.

With material this meaty, he couldn’t miss.

Like all Robinson Crusoe-like stories, it’s close to a solo acting effort. The solo in this case is sung by Matt Damon. He plays astronaut Mark Watney, who was stranded on Mars after a gigantic storm forces his crewmates to first abandon him and then the Red Planet.

They think he’s dead. The whole world thinks he’s dead.

Watney is most assuredly not. And the fact that he’s a botanist and knows how to grow food — even on Mars — means he has a shot at surviving. That point is pounded home with plenty of good humor.

The good humor helps in two ways. First, it sells the premise. An audience has to buy too much suspension of disbelief to play this one totally straight. Second, it gives Damon a chance to stretch. Comedy has never been his strong suit, and while this isn’t close to a comedy, his nonstop patter is not only practically perfect, it is sometimes very funny.

In between Damon tossing out killer line after line, is an excellent supporting cast filling in the dead spaces. Jeff Daniels heads up NASA, and Chewetel Ejiafor plays Watney’s Earthly advocate. Jessica Chastain is the captain of the Mars expedition who ordered Watney left behind. Completing the cast is Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Sean Bean and Kate Mara.

The best of the bunch is Daniels. Having an astronaut stranded on Mars is bad public relations. Daniels never cracks a smile, never waivers and his lines are nearly as killer as Damon’s.

The Yin and Yang works. And even at a yawning two hours and 20-some minutes, The Martian works — and it works very well.

The Martian

Director: Ridley Scott

Stars: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiafor, Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kristen Wiig, Kata Mara, Sean Bean

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It’s playing at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen.

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don’t bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.