Sasquatch. The Mothman. The New World Order. JFK’s assassination. Okay, maybe I believe there was an unholy collusion there with JFK, but it still belongs in the annals of pop culture urban legends whose mere mention has spawned decades of wild eyed speculation and frenzied rhetoric. Then there’s the gossip that NASA’s Apollo 11 space mission never really happened as shown to the world. Specifically, it did go into space, yet we never set foot on the moon due to technical issues or ill-advanced technology, while the infamous filmed images of Aldrin and Armstrong were re-created in a studio somewhere as evidence that America had ‘one-upped’ the Russians in a very rough and tumble game of Cold War subterfuge.
Added to those layers of grand-scale hoaxing emerged the murmured speak that world famous British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick was the ‘director’ of the staged material. Obviously, his triumph with 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before pegged him as the ideal myth-image maker of the times. Naturally, Kubrick was mum on all of this, taking his purported secrets to the grave, leaving behind no real evidence and providing us with enough conspiracy buff conversations to fill the AM nighttime radio dials for a long time. Hollywood has already listened once, as well, with 1977’s terrifically under appreciated film Capricorn One.
And that’s exactly the territory Antoine Bardou-Jacquet’s new comedy titled Moonwalkers explores, albeit in frustratingly disjointed fashion. Blending satire and hyper-stylized gratuitous violence with a ‘stoner’ comedy ethos, it’s an exuberant film that doesn’t always hit its intended purpose.
Taking place in late 60’s swinging London, hustler Jonny (Rupert Grint) is stuck between his grand ideals of actually being somebody and the reality of his position as manager for a low-rent rock band whose income seems to be shrinking daily when their prima donna lead singer (Erik Lampaert) fails to ever make it through an entire gig.
Jonny unwittingly crosses paths with CIA operative Kidman (Ron Perlman), dispatched to London to meet with Stanley Kubrick and offer him the financially lucrative proposition of the faked moon landing. As is the bane of so many comedies, the switched identity gag sets the wheels in motion as Jonny and best friend Leon (Robert Sheehan) impersonate said Kubrick and steal away with Kidman’s briefcase of cash.
Not one to let his reputation be sullied so easily, Kidman tracks down Jonny and Leon and forces them to carry through with their commitment and create the false moon landing footage.
Seeking the help of their avant garde filmmaker friend Renatus (Tom Audenaert) the stakes become increasingly more dangerous as both the CIA and London hoods become involved with the escapade. Moonwalkers bounces back and forth between several genres, never quite committing to one and partaking in the high gloss of them all. One minute it’s a psychedelic acid trip film when Kidman, already suffering from PTSD in his service during Vietnam, shakes loose his zipped up personality and partakes in the free amount of drugs around him. The next it becomes a Tarantino-esque exercise in slow-motion shootouts and exploding body parts. It’s as if the script, written by Dean Craig, can’t decide what type of audience it wants to attract so it aims for them all.
Regardless of its schizophrenic nature, Moonwalkers reaches some effective lucidity when it focuses on the more satirical aspects of things. Renatus- famous for his underground film “Bounce” which features black and white images of an obese man on a trampoline which he brags only took 7 months to film- and his troubadour of hazy colleagues becomes a more central focus to the film. His vision becomes grander and grander which sets the comedic tension of Jonny and Kidman higher and higher. There’s another small scene in which yelling erupts when two painted baby tigers show up on set. It’s here Moonwalkers becomes a nifty and even smart comedy about the egotistical and overblown landscape that surely was the late 60’s experimental film commune.
Yet, there’s not enough of this animated background to create a successful and complete effort. Ron Perlman, who can be so good with just his facial expressions, is given one through-line here and he plays it solemnly. Straight edged government man falling into the weak whims of the counter-culture. Likewise, Rupert Grint as Jonny flashes about two emotions…. surprised and desperate.
And by the time the London mob show up for an extended action sequence where everyone ends up as human body parts, Moonwalkers left me quietly hoping for a director’s cut that decided not to chase the stoner cult comedy vibe, but return to the far more interesting and subtle quandary about a group of halfwits and spaced out artists trying to carve B-movie aesthetics out of nothing. Alas, that’s not the interest of Moonwalkers and that’s a fatal flaw.
Moonwalkers opens in the North Texas area on Friday, January 15 at the Angelika Plano. It will also be available through Video-On-Demand services the same date.