Review in a Hurry:Billy Bob Thornton plays a farmer named Farmer who builds a space rocket out in the barn. Not based on a true story, unfortunately, and it’s a little tough to swallow.
The Bigger Picture:Michael and Mark Polish specialize in slow, moody, imaginary fables of Americana that seem to be set in their own universe.
Sometimes it works (Northfork truly lets their freak flag fly), and other times it can be deathly dull (the karaoke movie Jackpot). The Astronaut Farmer fits in neither category comfortably. On the face of it, it’s the brothers’ most family-friendly movie yet and a traditional tale of an average American who dreams big and makes it happen. The problem is that the story is clearly set in the here and now, complete with appearances by Jay Leno and Entertainment Weekly, and there are far too many problems with the story’s logic if we are to buy that this could somehow happen.
Let’s say we accept that an ex-astronaut can build a workable space rocket out of junk he finds in a “rocket graveyard.” Okay. But how, when his farm is about to be foreclosed and the family’s running out of food, is he able to all-out purchase a carnival ride for his daughter that he promptly places on their property? And when NASA detects an “unauthorized launch” of a missile-like object, are we to assume that Russia and China have no reaction?
It’s a charming enough movie, and Thornton and Virginia Madsen are likable enough to take us through it, but it would have been better set in the Polish brothers’ allegorical, surreal world, rather than ours.
The 180—a Second Opinion: If you have kids who love outer space (and what kids don’t?), plausibility won’t be as much of a problem for them, and the idea of being mission controller for space-dad might just stimulate the imagination.