“Abbott and Costello Go to Mars” (1953)
by A.J. Hakari
No comedian has ever made themselves funnier by playing the space card. It didn’t work for the Three Stooges, it didn’t work for the Far Out Space Nuts, and it sure as shit didn’t work for Eddie Murphy.* Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had a spotty track record to begin with — let’s be honest, half of their comedies were hilarious and half were dead air buffets — so I wasn’t terribly riled up for a movie that thought a visit to the angry red planet was a smart move. Corny as the concept is, I’ve seen the boys in more lame jams than Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, but it falls apart often enough to confirm that in space, no one can hear you groan.
In a vehicle that came at the tail end of their Universal tenure, Bud and Lou play handymen who find themselves aboard a top-secret rocketship bound for Mars. After a series of mishaps that make your average ’80s sitcom seem novel and edgy, their craft careens around the country, raising a ruckus before landing in New Orleans during Mardi Gras — which the guys have no problem mistaking for Martian soil. But the wacky antics have only just begun, for soon into the chaos comes a pair of bank robbers on the lam who take A&C on a side trip to Venus…where a plethora of foil bikini-clad hotties awaits them.
So yeah, outer space only figures into a fraction of Abbott and Costello Go to Mars. The first half plays like the “Sandy’s Rocket” episode of SpongeBob, wherein Bud and Lou think all the bizarre, elaborate costumes are just another part of the Martian landscape. I actually got a few chuckles out of this section of the flick, what with the boys showing a good amount of energy and the aforementioned thugs amusing in a Rocky and Mugsy kind of way.
But once the characters set a direct course for the second rock from the sun, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars jettisons nearly all of its momentum and indulges in a boatload of barely-there gags til the ending credits come. Fun as it is to chuck Lou around a spaceship in zero gravity, the charm wears off once we touch down on Venus and have to spend the rest of the movie watching everyone else ogle the native cuties. Not that these scenes aren’t without their perks, but they still don’t instill the pacing with any more madcap energy or make the comedy we do get in the meantime any less tired and schticky.
All things considered, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars isn’t the worst outing I’ve seen Bud and Lou endure. Their meeting with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was even more humorless, and I can think of a zillion ways of how this particular premise could’ve been even more pandering. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars spares a smirk once in a while, but there comes a point where you’ll be begging for anything — the Frankenstein monster, the Invisible Man, any Andrews sister — to liven up all the dead space left over.
(* Before anyone mentions Galaxy Quest, think for a minute how much Tim Allen brought to the movie…yeah, I thought so.)