Julia Roberts' Charm Outshines <i>Mars</i>

Aaron Spelling and his wife, Candy, pose with his award in the press room at the 2005 TV Land Awards at Barker Hangar on March 13, 2005, in Santa Monica, Calif. Spelling was honored with the Pioneer Award for his contribution to great television.
GETTY IMAGES/Stephen Shugerman

This week CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard reviews Mission to Mars and Erin Brockovich.

If I am going to persuade you not to see Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars - only out a week but already grossing more at the box office than any other movie in the galaxy - I will need Julia Roberts. If De Palma is extraterrestrial, like a hot rock, Roberts is supernova, so explosive we still see her light-years away.

I have a theory about Roberts, but it can wait.

First, there's De Palma, who lifts off into a New Age mush no more nourishing than the vacuum in outer space. And outer space could take lessons from the actors and the script on how to be empty and weightless.

Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise, Connie Nelson and Jerry O'Connell are supposed to be rescuing Don Cheadle, to whom awful things have happened on the red planet. Their hardware is lovely to look at. So is Mars, before a dust storm of mysticism.

There is an enchanted moment when our missionaries dance in zero gravity. And a scary one, when they run out of nasal spray after their shuttle's kaput. And a holographic one, when the past speaks to the future with a pretentiousness that reminds us why John Simon called Stanley Kubrick's 2001 a shaggy God story.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
But mostly there are actors in NASA drag who, when they aren't playing with Dr. Pepper and M&M's, communicate solely by cliche, running a gamut of emotions from "Gee whiz" to "Oh, fudge."

The antidote to these vapors is Julia Roberts, dirty of mouth and sluttish of dress, a single mother who neglects her supportive biker boyfriend to bring a giant corporation to its knees.

As indulged by director Steven Soderbergh, Roberts appears in almost every frame of Erin Brockovich, the real-life story of a woman whose only marketable skills are her belief in herself and looks to match. See her browbeat her way into a job at Albert Finney's ambulance-chasing law firm.

See her discover something fishy about PG&E buying up all the California real estate owned by people who've been drinking chromium in their water and getting deathly sick. See her charm her way into the confidence of Marg Helgenberger and even Cherry Jones.

See her scare the condescension out of lawyers in the mercenary hire of the utility company, not to mention $333 million in damages, all done with a Tinker Bell smile - and, of course, the winsome rest of her.

Erin Brockovich is lots more fun than A Civil Action, to which it will be compared along with Silkwood. But my theory is that Roberts has made three of these movies. In she was a law student, and in Conspiracy Theory she teamed up with Mel Gibson to expose a renegade intelligence-agency brainwashing project.

Now, in Erin Brockovich, she takes on the malefactors of great wealth. Roberts, while we were watching her do other things, has turned into Upton Sinclair, Sam Spade, Lincoln Steffens, Philip Marlowe, John Reed, maybe Woodward and probably Bernstein. Tinker Bell is Joan of Arc.