Who is this movie for? Kids will likely be bored by the slow-paced elements of a man’s mid-life crisis. Adults will see right through the smokescreen and identify Charles Farmer for what he really is: a selfish, irresponsible man with passive-aggressive tendencies. The message may be tried-and-true (reach for your dreams!), but the delivery in the awkwardly-titled The Astronaut Farmer is more than a little muddled.
Charles Farmer (Thornton) is a retired NASA astronaut who never got to visit space, but he still has the dream. Farmer has constructed his own rocket on the family farm and intends to launch it. When the Feds get wind of him trying to purchase a rather large quantity of rocket fuel, the debate begins regarding whether or not Farmer should be able to launch his rocket and fulfill his dream.
Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, for the adults out there, Farmer has put his family some $600,000 in debt with his pet project (NASA spends endless billions on their technology). When told by his banker that he won’t receive any more loads, he throws a brick through the bank’s plate-glass window. Hmm. Worse yet, when the family comes into a $300,000 inheritance, do you think they use it to help pay off the debt? Heck no! Farmer has repairs to make on his rocket.
This is the kind of logic that is impossible to bypass as a viewer, no matter how unrealistic and silly the plot is to begin with. It doesn’t help that writer/director Michael Polish (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Mark) has next to no fun with the material. This flick takes numerous potshots at the government as well as NASA, portraying both as boneheaded cretins with no imagination. Normally, I would have no problem with that, but in this context it is ludicrous. It couldn’t be that they’re worried about the safety of those living in the vicinity of the thousands of gallons of rocket fuel that would propel Farmer out of the atmosphere.
On the upside, the film does deliver a sense of wonder when it finally does get down to business. A launching mishap does provide for some fun special effects and the final twenty minutes or so will please the young ones who dream of space travel (and what kid doesn’t?)
Billy Bob Thornton, who had been playing hard-asses in his previous few roles, once again gets to charm family audiences with his dry wit and sarcasm. The fact that the character gets a few outbursts, regardless of appropriateness, makes Thornton the right man for the job. The supporting cast is acceptable, with Bruce Willis showing up in an uncredited part as one of Farmer’s old NASA buddies.
The Astronaut Farmer may struggle to find an audience, and for good reason. While there’s a little something here for forgiving crowds, there’s no one specific to sell it to. In terms of message, the film haphazardly succeeds, but the poorly-decided path to get there on Farmer’s part won’t wash with anyone except the kids who are too young to understand.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 104 Minutes
Rating: PG for thematic material, peril and language.
Theatrical Release: February 23, 2007
Directed by: Michael Polish
Written by: Mark Polish and Michael Polish.
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Max Theriot, Jasper Polish, Logan Polish, Bruce Dern