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Mercano the Martian (Juan Antin, 2002)


    Mercano the Martian, a low-budget animated film from Argentina that addresses that countryís current financial straits and larger issues of globalization, unfortunately doesnít take itself seriously enough to be truly biting satire. Itís made with crude animation that isnít much more sophisticated than that of the average web-based Flash cartoon (which is to say not much uglier than the latest Rugrats blockbuster), and that distinct lack of visual excitement lends to it an underground vibe that it essentially squanders by hewing too closely to the template of countless big budget, no-brainer animated spectacles. The first scene in this Buenos Aires-set romp shows a looting in which the looters canít decide which of the mass-produced wares that lay in front of them, if any, is worth lugging home, and thatís unfortunately about the wittiest moment in the movie. The plot picks up properly with the introduction of the titular character, an alien that is stranded on our planet after he travels to Earth to revenge the death of his beloved pet, who was struck by an unmanned Earth satellite probe.


    This setup that promises plenty of fish-out-of-water laughs, but after we see the little Martianís frustrating attempts to log onto the internet so he can ask his buddies for a ride home, there arenít many to be had, mostly because he interacts with very few actual people. Very much a movie of the moment, Mercanoís concerns are with the emotional disconnectedness of our computer-driven society and the subsequent commercialization of cyberspace. Mercanoís lone earthbound friend is a boy that he meets online and, before long, thanks to an evil corporationís theft of his planetís technology, 98% of our planet is jacked into an interactive digitized shopping mall. Even the dissidents in this leisure-driven society are initially too placated by the allure of consumerism to challenge it. If that setup sounds promising, I am not doing a good job of relaying the filmís failings. Ideas are clearly present here, but the treatment, which usually tramples any conflict by reducing it to bloody slapstick is only about only about as highbrow as The Matrix. Unlike The Matrix, though, since Mercano is so cheaply made and poorly paced, it fails as even as a silly spectacle. Thereís no escaping with either film the feeling that the anti-commercial message being espoused lies at odds with the glorified violence thatís being sold to audiences in these films and throughout our culture. Furthermore, the choice to use CGI to render the peaceful planet that Mercano hails from is an odd one considering the thematic use of technology. Just before Mercanoís ending, the supposedly enlightened aliens from that planet joke about the triviality of life on earth. Itís unfortunately more disturbing than funny to see that this is a sentiment that the filmmaker seems to share, since he canít even take his own apocalyptic ending seriously.


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Jeremy Heilman