The Astronaut Farmer

Film
3 out of 5 stars
DARK SIDE OF THE LOON All systems are go for Thornton.
DARK SIDE OF THE LOON All systems are go for Thornton.

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Fueled by a decidedly American formula of can-do crazy, The Astronaut Farmer feels, for all its libertarianism, a little lost in space. Like the backyard science project it’s about—a thwarted ex--NASA man (Thornton) builds a functioning spacecraft in his barn—the film has the volatile appeal of a Brady kid’s volcano: awe at the rushing chemical reaction, then nervousness as the gooeyness takes over. In this case, gooeyness means a rampant jus’ folks sentimentality, coupled with inevitable family bonding as dutiful wife (Madsen) and kids stand by their rocket man. (Yes, the Elton John song gets a credits workout.)

Resistance comes in the form of black government cars on the horizon. (Feds think he’s building a WMD, leading to the movie’s sharpest line, growled by Thornton: “If I were, you wouldn’t be able to find it.”) But easy, now: The Astronaut Farmer isn’t so concerned with politics or even plausibility. Instead, it taps into the cornpone Americana of informal hearings in high-school gymnasiums, and the impulse to paint the dreamer on the chassis of a silver spaceship. What the film really needs to do is walk its own walk with the cool intellect of Stanley Kubrick; there’s very little science here for a movie that’s so pro-science. While the independent Polish brothers (Mark is cowriter) have cast their adorable daughters, just like Kubrick did in 2001, it takes a little more than family pride to sell audiences on the big dream. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf

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