Faking The Fake Moon Landing Brings Surprisingly Few Laughs
For decades, a certain stripe of armchair researcher has insisted that we faked the Moon landing. A particularly persistent doubter once tried to goad "the truth" out of Buzz Aldrin and got punched out instead, as recently recounted in Margaret Lazarus Dean's spaceflight history Leaving Orbit. Maybe Buzz just isn't much of a cinephile: One common theory holds that the live footage of him and Neil prancing about the Sea of Tranquility was actually shot on a film set by none other than Stanley Kubrick.
Before the dopey new comedy Moonwalkers becomes just another space oddity, it's at least worth acknowledging the clever conceit at the film's low-gravity core. Here, the U.S. government did try to recruit Kubrick to stage a convincing landing, impressed by the eccentric auteur's vision of space in his transcendent blockbuster 2001: A Space Odyssey. But in this version, it was only as a backup: we still sent our best and brightest on a rocket ship to our nearest neighbor, with Kubrick's take to be a last resort, in case Apollo 11 couldn't complete its mission.
This scenario — this fictional scenario, that is — could open up a Pandora's box of conspiracy logic. If the Apollo crew had survived but failed in their mission and the Kubrick version had been used as a feint, could they and all necessary parties go on pretending it was a success? What about future missions—would Kubrick have to script every successive scientific "discovery"? (He's not really the type to do sequels.) And what if they'd never made it back to Earth? Would "Buzz" and "Neil" — in reality lost but in the official story doing just fine and played by impostors — mysteriously spend the rest of their lives wearing Eyes Wide Shut masks?
These might seem like good questions, or like the ramblings of a madman (in some circles, the two are one and the same). But either way, they do not concern Moonwalkers.Instead, Houston, we have landed in an overtly silly, mod-and-LSD rendition of '69 London that seems on loan from the Austin Powerssets. Into the land of awful plaid suits and topless women in go-go boots steps CIA agent Kidman (Ron Perlman, who still has the best weathered face in Hollywood). He arrives in town to track down Kubrick, but a cosmic turn of events instead places him in the company of a seedy band manager named Jonny (Harry Potter's Rupert Grint) in desperate need of cash. To score that briefcase full of CIA money, Jonny has a spacey actor friend (Robert Sheehan, TV's Misfits) impersonate the reclusive filmmaker. More Earthbound matters ensure that the con man and the suit—along with a hippy-dippy director who has his own worm-filled visions of space—will need to team up to "land" on the Moon, after all.
It's funny that, in order to film a convincing outer-space video in 1969, this motley crew will have to tamper down the era's pervasive psychedelic influences. But after this brainstorm, writer Dean Craig (Death at a Funeral) and first-time director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet satisfy themselves with lazy characterizations unbecoming of Kubrick. No points for giving Kidman PTSD from time served in Vietnam, to strike whenever the plot needs to move forward without him. Easier still to mellow out the angry straight man with some hard drugs, never mind that a CIA agent surely knows better than to consume any substance of uncertain origins. A pivotal character is an addict who always consumes just before being called upon to take center stage. The actors all have the look of someone who got lost on the way to the Moon: Only Grint, playing the panicked everyman that worked so well for him during all those years as Ron Weasley, seems pleased to be in this strange brew.
Moonwalkersisn't the first film to tinker with one of cinema's largest-looming legends. Room 237broke down the twisted logic of obsessive The Shining fans (including a theory that the film contained coded messages about Kubrick, yes, faking the Moon landing). And in the little-seen 2005 comedyColor Me Kubrick, John Malkovich played a man who impersonated the director in public without having seen any of his films. The same charge of unfamiliarity could be leveled against Moonwalkers, which—despite pivoting around the screen's most homage-able helmer—only manages a couple limp 2001 nods and a fight scene set to classical music that seems like it's trying to recall A Clockwork Orange.
If they were counting on interest from cinephiles to sell this idea, they should have tried harder to pander to us. Oh, and fellas? Buzz would like a word.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.