The Astronaut Farmer Review

Movie ReviewThe Astronaut Farmer: 3 out of 10.

I hated The Astronaut Farmer. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 58% and I find that shocking. The Astronaut Farmer is the worst kind of cinema and should be avoided at all cost.

It's good to have dreams. When this Farmer chap decides he's going to build a rocket in his barn, blast off to outer space and orbit the earth, people are sceptical. But it's his dream, don't you see? How will his teenage son feel if his daddy gave up on his dream?

Although I hated the "you can do anything so long as you believe in your dreams" Disney Americana crapola, that's not what got this movie a 3 out of 10. This movie gets a 3 out of 10 for plot holes you could fly a rocket through and for requiring a complete suspension of logic, reason and belief. Essentially, it's all completely ridiculous. All of it. Field of Dreams, a much better slice of Americana, seems far more plausible than The Astronaut Farmer, and that guy ended up playing catch with his dead dad.

How many people did Farmer almost kill when his first launch failed? How was he able to blast a rocket in Texas and get off without even a warning? How did he score all the fuel for that launch, let alone the next one? In post 9/11 America, how exactly does one manage to secure that much fuel for their missile-like rocket? How did he, his teenage son and illegal alien labourer manage to build that second rocket so damn quickly? And where did all the parts come from, Home Depot? OMG, you have to see this movie just to see how impossible and moronic it all is. The FBI come across as complete morons, the wife appears to be completely brainwashed and Farmer - well he's clearly a demented egomaniac with delusions of grandeur and completely and utterly dangerous. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your American hero.

Oh it's bad... and simply based on the fact a guy on a ranch said he was building a rocket to go into space, without anyone actually seeing said rocket, the space cowboy became a world-wide sensational story. Every news outlet in the world descended on his ranch, he was talked up in talk show monologues and "space cowboy" entered the lexicon. All because some cracker in Texas said he was building a rocket. I'll bet there are at least 4 dozen Americans building rockets in their barns as I type, but we don't know their names because they're nuts.

I hated this movie, and if you enjoyed it, I hate you, too.

astronaut-reg


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brad

so... did u like it?

November 28, 2009 @ 7:58 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

This guy agrees with me.

The Astronaut Farmer is a warm and fuzzy feel-good flick about a guy who builds a rocket in his back yard to launch himself into space. It's a film about dreams. It's a film about the government's urge to just say "No." Mostly, it's about two hours of mood music - give or take about 10 minutes.

Billy Bob Thornton plays a Texas farmer named Charles Farmer. (How original!) Farmer has a dream of going into space - a fact we glean from opening scenes of the man tending sheep while wearing a space suit. But Farmer was also a onetime member of the NASA astronaut training program, a fact we glean from a scene where Farmer stands in front of a wall full of pictures, charts, plaques and items that might as well say, "Former member of the NASA astronaut training program."

Nobody really believes that Farmer will ever go up, except his idyllic wife, Audrey (Virginia Madsen), perhaps the only wife in America who wouldn't be bothered by the fact that her husband has put a two-story rocket in their barn and invited their children to play in it. A lot of wives, looking at a husband whose face looks like somebody used it to mop the floor of a Texaco station in Hell, might be tempted to start chuckling. They might actually say something critical - as wives are sometimes wont to do, especially when living with a man who tends sheep while wearing a space suit. But not Audrey. Audrey is too busy trying out for sainthood. Farmer didn't marry a Texan. He married a Stepford Wife.

As you might imagine, launching to space from your backyard barn is more complicated than running a successful farm in New Mexico (where the film was actually shot). For one thing, Farmer's dreams don't cut much ice with the bank, which is threatening to foreclose if he doesn't do something about the 15 to 20 payments he's left delinquent. (Evil bankers!) And the folks from the FBI and Homeland Security want to know about the 10,000 gallons of rocket fuel he tried to buy. At one point in the film, a man from the CIA asks Farmer, "How do we know you're not building a WMD?" Farmer's reply - "If I were building a weapon of mass destruction, you'd never find it" - misses the point: Anybody with 10,000 gallons of rocket fuel in his barn is already sitting on a weapon of mass destruction.

The feds, particularly FAA Director Jacobson (J.K. Simmons), don't want Farmer to launch because they're afraid of what would happen to their budget. Never mind reality. Never mind the fact that the Commercial Space Launch Act was signed into law by Ronald Reagan - back in 1984. Never mind the Launch Services Purchase Act of 1990, signed by George H.W. Bush. Never mind public pronoucements from NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin, calling for commercial orbital transportation services - and warning that without their development, NASA would not be able to achieve the objectives of the Vision for Space Exploration.

If you want to enjoy this film, you have to live in its world, not in ours. You have to forget about Dennis Tito's self-financed visit to the International Space Station. And forget about the 2004 test of SpaceShipOne. Forget about Richard Branson's announcement of space flights to begin, within two years, for $200,000 per ticket. Forget about George W. Bush's signing of the 2004 Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, designed to promote the development of an American human-flight space industry. Forget about last year's launch of Genesis I, Bigelow Aerospace's subscale prototype of an orbital hotel.

The government HAS to stop Charles Farmer - for the same reason Charles Farmer has to be in danger of losing his farm: Somebody rented Field of Dreams and just knew that Farmer's quest to go up would only matter if folks down here were trying to shut him down. For that reason, Farmer is up to his nose cone in feds - including FBI agents Mathis (Mark Polish) and Killbourne (Jon Gries without his Uncle Rico wig from Napoleon Dynamite). As I sat there, watching the bureaucrats come down on poor Farmer - like that EPA inspector from Ghostbusters - I couldn't help but wonder which parallel universe I'd fallen into, because in this one Farmer's quest for a chunk of space would have less to do with a government conspiracy to stop him than with making sure Farmer didn't set his barn on fire, kill his family or take out half the county with his 10,000 gallons of rocket fuel - due to be ignited from within Farmer's barn.

At the very least, a launch into space ought to require a permit, and any such permit should require an FAA-approved flight plan (so Farmer doesn't accidentally knock out a jumbo jet) and the services of fire and emergency services standing by just in case there's a terrible accident - like the one that results when Farmer's initial launch sends him sideways through billboards, leaving scorched earth behind him until he nearly kills himself in somebody else's field. In the parallel universe of this film, you'd think poor Farmer were living in a police state, merely because his neighbors would like some protection from unlicensed, unsupervised, experiments involving a missile fired from inside a barn.

In the parallel universe of The Astronaut Farmer, alternative fuel has an amazing quality. You can launch a rocket into space, using alternative fuel, without setting fire to a wooden barn or causing the hay or other flammable items to light up like a candle. Anybody who has ever seen footage of any of the launches from Cape Canaveral should wonder why, in west Texas - let alone arid New Mexico (where this film was shot) - rocket fuel doesn't burn down the barn within which a two-story rocket has been launched. Apparently, nobody has noticed that NASA has made a habit of launching its rockets from humid, wet, Florida - mostly during the cooler months - and from platforms far away from anyone or anything that might be affected by a launchpad screw-up. For Farmer, that's all overkill. He steps into his two-story rocket with all of the fanfare of a dad jumping into his pickup to go buy baby some milk.

Even if we suspend judgment on this film's understanding of science - or law - I found its sloppiness too hard to swallow. When, for example, Charles Farmer shows up at school and pulls his children out, in order to bring them home and get them to work on his rocket, the filmmakers couldn't quite decide on simple issues - like what kind of class this is. In what must be the dumbest continuity error ever filmed, the teacher, Mrs. Graham (Lois Geary), objects, saying, "I'm trying to teach [Shepard] a history lesson!" Her performance might be more credible if, in fact, the board behind her didn't have a math problem scrawled within camera range.

But that's nothing. When Farmer straps himself into the nose cone of his home-made rocket, his wife gives him a final peptalk which includes the line, "I expect you home for dinner." But when she slams shut the capsule door, it latches loosely, with less security than the door on an oven. Given the fact that the guy is going into the vacuum of space, one hopes he's got more to keep the air in than a screen door. It's a little thing, but like the math problems in History class, the inflammable barn full of rocket fuel, as well as the angry feds (who think this is Ghostbusters) and the angry bank (who thinks this is Field of Dreams), it's one of those clunky errors that makes the script (by director Michael Polish and his brother Mark) a laundry list of don'ts.

If you can look past the comedy of errors, this film does, in fact, try hard to be a family-friendly, tear-jerking feel-good film about family, dreams and perseverence. My wife enjoyed it, though she has the ability to ignore her better judgment when doing so becomes necessary. I wish the script weren't so dial-a-prayer simple. I also wish its moments of suspense - like one involving a police chase - weren't given away by cross-cuts that reveal the twist several minutes before its release. This is a film full of pedestrian scene design, with characters doing exactly what they need to keep moving the story forward - but without so much as an edge of subtext.

If you like to be spoon-fed, seeing this film on the bigscreen can only be improved by a home rental, with the subtitles displayed onscreen so you'll get every word. Otherwise, I wouldn't feed this film to a pig. After all, there are some things even a pig won't swallow.

November 28, 2009 @ 8:00 PM

Madmal

LOL! That was the funniest movie review ever! I rented it awhile back but only made it through 10 minutes before I made a rocket out of the DVD. And I think that may of made it into orbit too!

November 28, 2009 @ 9:07 PM

Ajax Mike

One has to wonder what a film needs to do to earn a 1 or 2 rating from you Mike. If you hated this film enough to hate anyone who liked it, what does a 1 out of 10 film look like?

November 28, 2009 @ 10:11 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

J.K. Simmons shows up in this thing. that got it two points. Vern Schillinger is one of my favourite tv characters of all time.

November 29, 2009 @ 9:40 AM

Mike from Lowville

After Billy Bob Fuck Face made an ass of himself with my favorite CBC on air personality, he's toast and every movie he appears in is toast. You know, the kind of toast you don't bother to scrape to salvage!

November 29, 2009 @ 10:47 AM


Stephanie Wilkinson

Uhhh... I think I would have been out at the Title.

November 29, 2009 @ 11:30 AM

McNulty

It's a Billy Bob Thorton movie. Has he made a good movie in the last 10 years? Maybe Bad Santa but that's about it.

November 30, 2009 @ 8:13 AM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

And Friday Night Lights...

November 30, 2009 @ 8:54 AM

Trish

I watched an episode of "From the Earth to the Moon" last night and thought of Mike's review of this thing. I loved Billy Bob in Sling Blade and Bad Santa, but he's put out way too much cr*p for me to be a serious fan. I think I remember him likening himself to Jimmy Stewart when he was promoting this movie...

November 30, 2009 @ 2:49 PM

The_Voice

From the Earth to the Moon is AWESOME. It's like, 10 completely differently styled mini-movies about the moon missions.

November 30, 2009 @ 5:26 PM

sozzer

By seeing the headline I somehow thought that a start-up with this name and valuation could truly create, you know, rocket fuel - no such luck though.

April 5, 2011 @ 9:53 PM

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