After a conspicuously long post-production delay, “My Favorite Martian” finally appears as a frenetic farce aimed at nostalgic baby boomers and undemanding pre-teens. The latter may turn out in sufficient number for pic to generate modest opening-weekend action. But over-30 ticket buyers who fondly recall the original ’60s TV series likely will wait until the recycled sitcom returns to the small screen.
In roles originally played with appreciably more restraint by Ray Walston and the late Bill Bixby, respectively, Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Daniels bounce off the walls and each other, while trying hard not to be upstaged by state-of-the-art special effects.
Lloyd has the title role of a befuddled extraterrestrial who assumes human form after his spaceship crash-lands near the first West Coast launch of a U.S. space shuttle.
Daniels is Tim O’Hara, a newly unemployed TV news producer who reluctantly provides a safe haven for the transmogrified “Uncle Martin.”
With a touch of “E.T.” here and a dab of “Men in Black” there, screenwriters Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver — former members of the Groundlings comedy troupe — provide just enough plot contrivance for a 93-minute extension of a typical 30-minute sitcom.
At first, Tim wants to videotape evidence of Uncle Martin’s un-earthly origin in order to break a story that will impress both his former boss (Michael Lerner) and, more important, the beautiful but bubble-brained reporter (Elizabeth Hurley) who just happens to be the boss’s daughter. Just in time, however, Tim has a change of heart and saves Uncle Martin from government agents led by a short-fused scientist (Wallace Shawn) and his mysterious advisor (Ray Walston of the original “Martian” series).
Unlike the 1963-66 TV show, which had to make due with pinch-penny camera tricks, the bigscreen “Martian” is filled with all manner of digital and animatronic wizardry. Indeed, one of the main “characters” is Zoot, Uncle Martin’s walking and talking space suit, which dashes about and cracks wise in a manner reminiscent of the genie voiced by Robin Williams in “Aladdin.”
Zoot gets most of the good lines, and has a much more winning personality than any of the human supporting players. Daryl Hannah is inoffensively bland as a TV camera operator who falls for Tim. But most of the other co-stars, including Christine Ebersole as Tim’s pixilated landlady, are directed by Donald Petrie (“Grumpy Old Men”) to behave like uninhibited bit players in a Tex Avery cartoon. Walston has a genuinely witty moment near the end, with a “surprise” revelation that should please faithful fans of the sitcom.
Not quite as disastrous as the “Car 54, Where Are You?” or “McHale’s Navy” spinoffs, but not nearly as clever as the “Brady Bunch” and “Addams Family” pics, “Martian” is loud, busy and altogether pointless. Worse, it’s simply not as engaging as the show that inspired it. Lloyd and Daniels are fitfully funny during their physical comedy riffs, but the warm friendship that supposedly binds their characters is announced rather than dramatized. All the high-tech razzle-dazzle can’t disguise the fact that people on both sides of the camera are merely going though the motions.