Over the course of my day job, I've seen the trailer for Mars Needs Moms more than I can count. It has generated a loathing within me that I cannot adequately describe. The general rule of thumb is that the trailer for a comedy will include all the funniest moments. It seems that with Mars Needs Moms, the decision was made to include only the most annoying parts in the trailer, because every line felt like it was piercing directly to the anger centers of my brain. Imagine my surprise when I saw the movie and found that it wasn't quite as unbearable as I had first assumed. However, "not always annoying" isn't the same as "good," and while Mars Needs Moms can sometimes rise to the level of the former, it never gets within shouting distance of the latter.
Milo (Seth Green) is your typical kid. He wants to play around and watch movies. His mother (Joan Cusack), on the other hand, just wants him to take out the trash and eat his vegetables. When he feeds his broccoli to the cat and lies about it, Milo's mom sends him to bed, causing him to exclaim he wished he didn't even have a mom. Overcome with guilt, he rushes to apologize, only to find she's being abducted by Martians. Stowing away on the ship by accident, Milo finds himself stuck on Mars, with no clue where to go or how to save his mother. He's aided by another human, Gribble (Dan Fogler), who seems to be able to manipulate all of the Martians' technology. Finally, they encounter Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), a disgruntled Martian who wants to change the restrictive society she lives in. Together, the trio battle the entire Martian army while trying to save Milo's mom.
Mars Needs Moms, based on a book by comic book legend Berkeley Breathed, aims for the stars but never reaches it. The movie has problems with its internal logic. While every movie requires suspension of disbelief, Mars Needs Moms pushes things to the breaking point. The film opens with Martian children popping up right out of the ground. Later we discover that male and female Martians are separated from each other, and never come into contact. Wait, what? Either males and females are needed for procreation, in which case they have to come in contact at some point, or the children are born asexually, which means there's no need for gender at all. Okay, that might be a nitpick, but how about when the Martians go looking for suitable moms to abduct? They hop around North America, looking for stern, unforgiving mothers. Why North America? Did they not read about China's "Tiger Mothers"? It seems strange, given that the whole society appears to be dominated by Martian women just like them.
Even stranger is the reason Mars needs the moms at all. It seems the women who run Mars simply cannot be bothered to raise children, a trait that would surely spell the evolutionary extinction of any species (especially if they're forcing the men to live underground and not participate in Martian society). Instead, Martians use Nanny Bots to raise their kids, and they use the memories of the abducted mothers to program the Nanny Bots. However, it's a running theme throughout the film that the kids receive no warmth from these robots, making me wonder why they need the human memories at all. And then they mention the Nanny Bots are one-time use. Really? This is a race that has developed laser guns, space ships capable of traveling faster than the speed of light, and multitudes of other technological breakthroughs, but they can't make a Nanny Bot that lasts for more than one baby?
These problems could be overlooked if not for one thing: Dan Fogler. His performance as the man-child Gribble is loud, garish, and so infuriating that it recalls another CGI abomination, namely Jar-Jar Banks of Star Wars infamy. His very presence in the film brings everything to a grinding, screeching halt, sucking all the air out of the story. His lines are terrible, and the performance is even worse. It's so bad I highly suggest he quit acting entirely and go live out a quiet life someplace where he can't bother large portions of the American public ever again. His presence also seems to allow the writers to indulge in their worst whims, including a particularly awkward "Who Let The Dogs Out" reference. Fogler isn't the only annoying thing, as the Martian men are some mix of Rastafarians and hippies and are bad enough that I sympathized with the women for wanting to have nothing to do with them.
On the lighter side, Seth Green does an admirable job as Milo, and the motion capture CGI is moving ever closer to climbing its way out of the uncanny valley. However, with Joan Cusack, the effect is jarring, and her movements never seem natural. Her eyes also have that dead look that is so often associated with this method.
Mars Needs Moms has some good ideas, but it also has a lot of bad ones that ruin the experience. Even if you could get past the conceptual gaffes, Dan Fogler's performance is so noxious that I can't in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone. Mars can keep this one.