Big-screen `Martian' has its charms

Movie review

February 12, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

As retread TV goes, "My Favorite Martian" ain't all that bad.

That it's not offensive is a minor miracle, considering it comes from Disney's live-action division, which in recent years has specialized in films about as funny as an attack of gas (and these films invariably thought attacks of gas were funny). But thanks to a talented cast and an unforced script, "My Favorite Martian" is actually entertaining.

This go-round, it's Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Martin, the Earth-bound Martian whose only friend is hyperkinetic, eager-to-please reporter Tim O'Hara (Jeff Daniels). O'Hara believes he's on to the story of the century. Determined to tape Martin secretly when his guard is down, O'Hara allows the alien into his home.

But a bond develops, and soon O'Hara realizes that betraying his newfound uncle won't be as easy as he'd hoped.

The ever-dependable Daniels turns in another solid performance as O'Hara; in a career that has taken him from "Terms of Endearment" to "Gettysburg" to "Dumb and Dumber" and "Pleasantville," Daniels has selflessly let his co-stars do the shining. Someday Hollywood will appreciate how difficult that is.

Both Elizabeth Hurley (as the sexpot TV news reporter who insists the world be handed to her on a silver platter) and Daryl Hannah (as O'Hara's camera operator and should-be girlfriend) deliver fine comic performances. And the original Uncle Martin, Ray Walston, drops by to play a mysterious figure determined to track down this interplanetary visitor.

"My Favorite Martian" is not without its misfires. Lloyd brings a little too much energy to his Uncle Martin; if only his performance would shift out of overdrive once in a while. And Wallace Shawn, as a scientist tracking extraterrestrials, takes whining to a new and unwelcome level.

But the script by Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver lets the humor flow out of Martin and O'Hara's relationship, rarely forcing jokes where they don't belong. And a talking, morphing Martian space suit named Zoot -- another special-effects marvel from Industrial Light & Magic -- is a howl.

One might carp about Hollywood taking yet another marginally successful baby-boomer TV sitcom and bringing it to the big screen. But like "The Addams Family" and "The Brady Bunch" before it, at least "My Favorite Martian" understands the charms of its forebears, bless its little retread heart.

`My Favorite Martian'

Starring Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Daniels and Elizabeth Hurley

Directed by Donald Petrie

Released by Disney

Rated PG (mild language, innuendo)

Running time: 88 minutes

Sun score: * * 1/2

Pub Date: 2/12/99

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