When a NASA mission to Mars fails to get off the ground, and their funding is threatened, they decide to fake a landing. But as the fakery threatens to come to light, the lives of the astronauts forced to act out the journey, is threatened as the government try to cover things up.
An excellent, if forgotten, late seventies conspiracy thriller which takes the existent fable of the faked moon landing and runs with it. Certainly, you have to forgive the whacking great lumps of far-fetchedness. Shadowy political trickery is one thing, fabricating an entire NASA mission is near impossible to credit. Get over that and it’s a whole lot of fun watching Hal Halbrook’s — who played supergrass Deep Throat in All The President’s Men — wicked scheming unravel thanks to the gutsy work of Elliot Gould’s tatty hack.
It is he, one of the seventies great unrecognised joys, who gives the film its ironic fizz, as if it is almost parodying the seriousness of the eras moody suspicions. As he pieces together the factual anomalies, tipped off by his soon-to-die insider buddy Robert Walden, and dodges various attempts on his life (the most immediate form of verification) the film spins into life. The second half is pure chase movie, a race against time as the trio of heroic spaceman escape their desert prison and are gradually hunted down. That they are played by James Brolin, Sam Waterston and O.J. Simpson, who gets to drink from a dead snake, tells you just what era this film harkens from.
Director Peter Hyams, a hack himself who veers between the outright crap and expertly handled B-movies like this, plays around with some loopy helicopter shots in search of a resonant style. He needn’t have worried, the set-up is strong enough, a truly original focus for a thriller — for a while the astronauts are unaware they haven’t gone to Mars! Employing composer Jerry Goldsmith, who delivers one of his most stirring scores helps no end, as does a hilarious cameo from Telly Savalas as a crop-dusting pilot who Gould ropes into his rescue mission. In a strange way, it’s well worth a remake.
Elliot Gould's enjoyably dry irony makes this 70's conspiracy thriller still engaging, if a little dated.