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Gasping for Air: Moonwalkers

Moonwalkers 01

By Elias Savada.

The other day North Korea exploded what it called a hydrogen bomb, when, in reality (we’re told), it wasn’t all that big, or as Trevor Noah of The Daily Show said, “They farted.”

The flatulence is equally noticeable in the meandering, awkward conspiracy theory comedy Moonwalkers, making its rounds in theatres and on VOD. Speaking of gassiness, the film’s opening credit sequence offers up an animated Richard Nixon exhibiting a propensity for pyroflatulence. The cartoon opening may resemble the psychedelic world of Yellow Submarine (1968), but the rest of the film deflates into a sea of low aspirations. It has a hard time staying afloat.

In the aftermath of his fame as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Rupert Grint shows unsteady footing as Jonny Thorpe, the goodheartedly ineffective down-on-his-luck and in-over-his-head-in-debt music producer of a dreadfully incompetent and self incendiary rock band (The Yellow Blackguards) in England during the late 1960s. The Summer of Love is afoot in Swinging London. Over in America, level-headed but battle-weary Vietnam War special ops veteran Tom Kidman (Ron Perlman) has a serious case of PTSD that is overlooked by his cigar-stomping military handler (Jay Benedict). He’s sent on an outlandish Argo-esque mission involving moviemaking and fakery. Moonwalkers looks at a fictional and fully bungled military approach to the impending landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, with a CIA-hatched plan to hire director Stanley Kubrick to shoot faux video footage, just in case the spaceflight goes awry. The idiots in the Pentagon would then have something to show the public while the astronauts circle around the moon. There’s not a single bright light in the minds of the imbeciles who might have concocted this dubious plan, and even fewer in the execution as envisioned by the cast and crew of this film.

Moonwalkers 02Naturally, I headed to the Wikipedia entry for “Moon landing conspiracy theories,” which was surprisingly lengthy and detailed. Allegations have run rampant since the actual (I presume) landings, and, lo and behold, Kubrick is there! The Flat Earth Society believed that Walt Disney underwrote a faux production, with Kubrick directing from a script (was one really needed?) by Arthur C. Clarke. Kubrick supposedly directed the replica footage during the shooting of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This episode in the space race was covered in the 2002 French television mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon (original title: Opération Lune), that I suspect only fueled the conspiracy geeks to higher levels within their oxygen-depleted foolhardiness.

The intrepid Kidman, masquerading as a Hollywood producer for Johnson Brothers Films, heads to a meeting in London, where he mistakes the desultory Jonny as Kubrick’s agent Derek Kaye (Stephen Campbell Moore), who has been temporarily indisposed due to too much snorted cocaine. Jonny, visiting Derek, his snooty cousin, smells the oodles of moolah in Kidman’s carrying case and sees an bamboozle opportunity. Jonny’s junky friend and flat mate Leon (Robert Sheehan), with adequate facial hair, provides a very unfocused impersonation of the noted film director. When the ruse, as it is, unravels, an unruly domino effect brings whatever legitimate comic elements in the story to an abrupt collapse. The annoying gag reel starts a third into the film, when Kidman, Jonny, and Leon convene in a remote mansion with the “only hope you’ve got” for the filmmaking scenario to work out. This large communal residence is filled with hippies, artists, naked people, a soundtrack blaring Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and an oversized and grossly underdressed French king rooster named Renatus (Tom Audenaert) who apparently is a director of Warhol-style films who wants to imprint his own bizarre creative vision (although quite willing to sell for the right price) on the project. There’s also the shapely Ella (Erika Sainte), a muse who helps soothe Kidman’s troubled soul, when he’s not blasting someone’s head off.

As the film comes to its drugged-to-the-gills frantic close, the goons of Dawson (James Cosmo) a.k.a. Iron Monger, a gangster to whom Jonny owes money, an over-equipped squad of CIA agents, and the loonies already in the mansion, mingle in a murderous madcap misadventure as the Americans land on the moon and the folks back in Washington drop jaw at the alternate footage.

If you get the feeling this is a Michel Gondry film gone awry, it’s because the producer, Georges Bermann, has produced a majority of that director’s films. Unfortunately, the cinematic style that so infuses Gondry’s absurdist world is lacking within the topsy-turvy mind of director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet (known for his music videos and commercials work), here making his feature film debut, and his screenwriter Dean Craig (adapting a story by Bardou-Jacquet), whose work on Moonwalkers is his fourth writing credit. Craig also served as executive producer and the writer of Neil LaBute’s 2010 mediocre American comedy Death at a Funeral, which was a remake of the 2007 British feature of the same name by Frank Oz (which Craig also wrote), both of which featured Peter Dinklage in a major role as the same character.

Like his script for the Australian comedy A Few Best Men (2011), a Hangover-style comedy about pre-marriage pandemonium, Moonwalkers’  narrative is so forced and frantic it can’t be appreciated among the ever escalating unrealities of this particular conspiracy theory.

Occasionally there a flashes of a good film. Bardou-Jacquet orchestrates a small sequence showcasing Perlman’s imposing strength – in a bathroom pub facing off against some unruly Brits – with bloody good Tarantino muscle. But everything else pales. There are too many foot-in-mouth moments rather than clever writing and imaginative directing. The film’s narcissistic attitude overplays its welcome.

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.

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