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Skip Mars And Head For Campus

Tom Sizemore, Simon Baker, and Val Kilmer in Red Planet
AP/WARNER BROS.
This week, CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard waves us away from Mars and points the way to a college campus in Pennsylvania.
There are no writers on Mars.

Ice and algae? Yes.

Hardware and mysticism? Lots.

Problems and tantrums? All over the place.

Red Planet also has more than its fair share of lunatic robots, killer crickets, Val Kilmer, and Benjamin Bratt.

But when Carrie-Anne Moss and her astronaughty engineers left Hollywood for outer space, they forgot to pack anybody who could do dialogue.

Earth, as usual, has the blues. Carrie-Anne and her team must check out red Mars before we move there.

Val Kilmer checks out Carrie-Anne. Val also checks out Amee, a Green Beret robot. Then, just as they parallel park, gamma-ray hell breaks loose, leaving Carrie-Anne to put out a fire, dumping the guys in Australia and the Middle East, annoying Amee (whose batteries they want to steal), and causing a communications crisis as the ice comes down, the robot is restless, and Something Combustible may be gaining on them.

God shows up in Red Planet (instead of writers) to take the blame. This isn't necessary in Wonder Boys, a movie all about writers that opened last week for the second time this year.

In February, this smart film got a dumb ad campaign, and nobody went to watch. But the studio likes it as much as I do, so they're trying all over again.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
Based on Michael Chabon's novel about novelists at a university in Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys stars Michael Douglas as a pot-smoking professor of English who can't finish his second book, Robert Downey Jr. as his equally potted New York editor who desperately needs that book, Frances McDormand as the woman he sleeps with instead of his wife, Tobey Maguire as the best writer in his class. Katie Holmes as the best critic, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, a car that's maybe stolen, and a dog that's definitely dead.

All this, plus Rip Torn as a best-selling author on campus Word Fest Weekend, as directed by the Curtis Hanson who gave us L.A. Confidential.

Wonder Boys is a shaggy dog story about messy lives and great literature. As well as smart, it's funny. Pease seize this second chance to see it. I can't promise that it will keep coming back for a recount, like Florida or Brigadoon.