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Originally published Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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Movie review

'John Carter': Dull characters, chaotic action weigh down Mars tale

A movie review of "John Carter," directed and cowritten by Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo," "WALL-E"). His first non-animated feature is a cheesy looking sci-fi quasi-epic filled with dullish characters and chaotically staged action scenes.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 1.5 stars

'John Carter,' with Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Andrew Stanton, from a screenplay by Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon. 137 minutes.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. Several theaters.

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Hello Reviewer...with a basis in light, but entertaining, pulp cliffhangers full of... MORE
My only problem with the review is that is mentioned it is true to the books. Not many... MORE
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Behold! The marvelous Martian jumping being! Able to leap tall rock formations in a single bound! It's a bird! It's a plane!

It's ... "Carter. John Carter." Speaking in the laconic, grim-faced fashion of "Bond. James Bond." Too bad Taylor Kitsch, the Hollywood hunk cast as the hero of this big bucks 3-D distillation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' series of sci-fi pulp novels, hasn't a thimbleful of the charisma of Daniel Craig.

With greasy looking shoulder-length locks and a face as expressive as a block of granite, Kitsch is the deadly dull centerpiece of a movie that, in the stiffness of its performances and the silliness of its retro-futuristic ambience (hey, Martians zip around in flying machines yet fight one another with swords), bears an uncomfortable resemblance to one of Craig's lesser pictures: "Cowboys & Aliens."

It's got an Old West hero (Carter is a Civil War vet turned gold prospector) who is zapped to a dusty and surprisingly Earthlike Mars (no spacesuits necessary) by a mysterious glowing blue gizmo. There, he battles alien warriors and computer-generated monsters while falling in love with a dark-haired human princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).

Oh, the jumping? Thanks to Mars' low gravity, earthling John can bounce from pillar to post, baffling baddies with his acrobatics and smiting them mightily with a big old sword. Inevitably, he winds up getting captured, clapped in irons and threatened with extinction until, inevitably, he wiggles free and goes caroming across the Marscape once more. This pattern repeats itself again and again. It's boring.

But it's faithful to Burroughs. In the novels, Carter hacks and hews and cheats death with metronomic regularity. The books are a problem. Their prose is overheated, with lines like "my seething blade wove a net of death about me" (from "The Gods of Mars") studding every page. Pure pulp. And offered up with feverish seriousness.

While that sort of thing may have wowed readers in 1911, when the first Carter novel was published, it doesn't really resonate these days.

In his first non-animated feature, writer-director Andrew Stanton, who did wonderful work as the director and co-writer of "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," has made a cheesy looking (the 3-D adds nothing to the picture) quasi-epic filled with dullish characters and chaotically staged action scenes. His red planet is a dead zone.

Soren Andersen:

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