It’s not that I believe every conspiracy theory that comes along, it’s just that I have a serious weakness for the imagination that goes into some of them. And so it is with the theory that while Apollo 11 may or may not have actually landed on the moon in 1969, the footage that we have all come to know and love was filmed on a soundstage. By Stanley Kubrick. For reasons that are as many as the theorists involved. That Kubrick was later to have sprinkled clues in his work admitting as much is another story altogether, and one admirably addressed in, among other places, the film ROOM 237.
MOONWALKERS is a deliciously offbeat riff on that theory. In this version, the government is worried that the astronauts might not be able to land Apollo 11 on the moon and may just have to settle for orbiting it in a fly-by. To make sure that the United States will beat the Soviet Union to the moon, at least in public perception, they dispatch Kidman, (Ron Perlman) a shell-shocked CIA black ops specialist, to England, there to convince Mr. Kubrick, whose work in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was so realistic, to provide similarly convincing footage in order to perpetrate the hoax should the need arise.
Kidman, dealing with his own hallucinatory demons, unfamiliar with cinema, and working from an unfortunately smeared photo, makes several bad assumptions, which leads him to Jonny (Rupert Grint). Or is it kismet that has brought together a CIA agent bearing an attache case full of money and a loveable loser with a loan-shark on his tail, a rock band seeking to toss him as their manager, and a fuzzy-brained actor for a roommate (Robert Sheehan) who, when styled just right, bears a passing resemblance to Kubrick?
Told with the esprit of a screwball comedy, and the sensibility of a modern gangster film, the action is by turns whimsically bizarre and viscerally violent. Add a dash of poignancy over Jonny’s earnest incompetence, the satire that sends up of pop-culture through the ages, and you have a sweet film that isn’t afraid to show a man’s head being blown off. And to make it sort of, kind of, funny. Just the way it makes a come-on involving a popsicle seem almost innocent in the context of youthful rebellion and challenging of authority.
Grint is the perfect blend of determination and despair that forms a lynchpin between Perlman’s laconic menace in the face of gangsters and hippies, Sheehan’s daft dimness about what is happening, and the narcissistic excesses of the non-Kubrick director (Tom Audenaert) they settle on for the project. There is something so tentative and yet so dangerously sincere about Grint’s contained meltdown when he’s confronted by the idea of jellyfish dancing with the astronauts that becomes an apotheosis of the classic straight-man slow burn. He might condense into a pool of weeping jelly, or kill someone.
Frenetic in style, deadpan in humor, and illuminated with 60’s psychedelia, MOONWALKERS takes nothing seriously except the wonder of man walking on the moon. For that, there is a proper reverence, and not a little melancholy in looking back over almost half a century at an achievement that we haven’t topped in all that time.