“That’s one small step for man, one giant conspiracy for all mankind.” Did we really land on the moon in July 1969? Is history as clear-cut as the textbooks purport it to be? “Moonwalkers” — a new, low-profile movie from director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet — prefers to have it both ways in the most inconceivable romp about travelling to Earth’s lunar satellite since George Melies’s silent 1902 film “A Trip to the Moon.”
The movie is set in the late 1960s with the space race at a fever pitch . America is preparing to launch its 11th Apollo mission, which will hopefully place men on the moon. However, the government has a back-up plan should this fail. Their insurance policy: hire Stanley Kubrick (hot off 1968’s technical sci-fi marvel “2001: A Space Odyssey”) to film a fake moon landing, which will be broadcast as a last resort – any means necessary to embarrass the evil Russians! The plot bears strong resemblance to a well-known conspiracy theory that has floated in the popular culture for decades and it’s a wonder why no one ever decided to make a movie about such a wacky concept, unless you count 1977’s “Capricorn One.”
Nevertheless, “Moonwalkers” (in limited release and available on iTunes) takes a satiric and light-hearted approach to the hoax. One could almost call it Strangelove-esque with a half-crazed, over-patriotic, cigar-chomping general (channeling George C. Scott in his heyday) who recruits CIA agent Kidman (Ron Perlman) to rendezvous with Kubrick in London and bribe him with a briefcase full of cash to help create the phony images. As deadly as he is, traumatized from special operations in ‘Nam, Kidman is a loose cannon who sees dead, worm-infested Viet Cong wherever he goes.
Perlman plays the role with a perpetual menacing glare and a deadly growl which doesn’t elicit the amusement that it was intended to. He’s just kinda there when he’s not beating or shooting people to a bloody pulp.
Failing to make contact with Kubrick, Kidman ends up allying himself with a down-on-his-luck British band manager Jonny (a ferrety Rupert Grint) and his hippie friend Leon (Robert Sheehan) to complete the mission which spirals out of control with a drunken, half-naked director, a rock opera and dancing jellyfish.
Hellboy and Ron Weasley teaming up! Sounds awesome, right? Sadly, the movie never makes it out of orbit, turning into a strange hybrid of Guy Ritchie’s iconic gangster-underbelly of London style and a graphic Tarantino splatter fest instead of exploiting its kooky plot to the fullest. The film revels in the psychedelic pop of the decade (with an opening title sequence straight out of “Yellow Submarine”), but can’t seem to lock down its fun and carefree nature. Even a slow motion montage of a hedonistic, Warhol-like art orgy set to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and a hallucinogenic acid trip do not save it.
When Creedence Clearwater Revival’s iconic anti-war anthem “Fortunate Son” arrives to play the movie out to stock footage of the moon landing and the star-spangled pride it instilled, the story has already run out of steam and plausibility. Whether the makers intended to or not, the movie leaves the viewer to debate whether or not the United States actually succeeded. Was there another production set up just in case? Have we been fooled for over four decades? Please excuse me while I go get my tinfoil hat.