“Moonwalkers” takes a brilliant idea and runs it to the ground thanks to a confused and illogical screenplay, an atonal execution, and a bizarre addiction to Tarantino-level gleeful ultra-violence awkwardly crammed into what was obviously supposed to be a biting satire. It’s as if the filmmakers decided that it wasn’t enough to ape the satirical touches of “Dr. Strangelove,” so for some reason they thought inserting the over the top violence of “Punisher: War Zone” would give their meagerly-budgeted feature the fresh new angle it needed. Don’t get me wrong, both of those films are great in their own completely different terms, but together they form quite a repulsive cocktail.
The admittedly smart premise takes off from the conspiracy theory that Stanley Kubrick faked the 1968 moon landing (if you want to listen to some gloriously bat shit crazy takes on how Kubrick used “The Shining” to give subtle clues to the audience about his involvement in this “conspiracy,” check out the fascinating doc “Room 237”). Shortly before the Apollo mission is launched, the US government is nervous about pulling off the moon landing, the failure of which will result in them pesky ruskies automatically winning the space race.
So they come up with the idea of hiring Kubrick, who recently proved that he can pull off realistic images of space with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” to direct the fake moon landing footage to fool the people of Earth just in case the real one doesn’t take place because of technical reasons. Since “Moonwalkers” is supposed to be satire, at least on the surface, the government hires Kidman (Ron Perlman), an unstable madman constantly haunted by the images of people he brutally murdered during the Vietnam War, to handle a delicate mission that depends on tactful subtlety for any chance of success. What can go wrong?
Kidman’s mission is to take a briefcase full of cash to Kubrick’s coke-head agent Derek (Stephen Campbell Moore) in order to convince Kubrick to take on the project. Unfortunately, that’s exactly when Derek’s visited by his cousin Jonny (Rupert Grint), the deadbeat manager of a prog rock band that’s terrible even for prog rock standards, begging for a loan in order to pay off a gang of murderous mobsters. Upon laying eyes on Kidman’s cash, Jonny pretends to be Kubrick’s agent, going as far as using his stoner actor friend Leon (Robert Sheehan) to pretend to be the reclusive filmmaker.
The ruse pays off and Jonny makes off with the cash, at least until the mobsters he owes steal it from him. When Kidman shows up at Jonny’s flat and presses a gun to his face, gently asking for the money back, Jonny has no choice but to find a way to pull off the fake landing, using his connections with a bunch of talentless artists, one of which is an obese Andy Warhol-wannabe pop art director aptly named Renatus (Tom Audenaert).
It’s at this point where the many logical gaps in “Moonwalkers” begin to rise to the surface. The screenwriter of this film, Dean Craig, also wrote both the 2007 and the 2010 versions of “Death at a Funeral,” a tightly wound and quite hilarious comedy of errors. He obviously has experience in writing quality material for this genre, so what went wrong here? Yes, for a comedy of errors to work, the protagonists need to have a certain lack of intelligence and insight, but to exploit that idiocy too much will result in the characters coming off as irredeemable morons, which will destroy any goodwill the audience will feel towards them.
We can suspend our disbelief up to the point of accepting that Kidman thought the clearly unstable Leon was Kubrick, but the fact that he doesn’t kill Jonny and Leon on the spot and actually trusts these idiots to deliver one of the grandest hoaxes in history is a logical leap too many. The fact that Kidman doesn’t immediately return to hiring Kubrick after getting the money back from the mobsters, following an atonally violent shootout, and instead keeps putting his faith into the gang of drug addicted buffoons who will surely destroy his secret mission doesn’t help matters either.
Director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet makes his feature film debut in a project that’s full of the usual first feature mistakes, including but not limited to an overeager approach to setting up a unique style while completely ignoring the possibility of a cohesive and balanced story. Yet there’s some good stuff in his work. His pisstake broad representation of ’60s hippie pop art culture is simplistic but amusing nevertheless. A forced LSD trip that Kidman finds himself in is full of the usual psychedelic hallucinations, but becomes the most memorable sequence thanks to some creative, wacky imagery.
The ending predictably focuses on the ragtag team of filmmakers completely messing up the fake moon landing, which doesn’t include any groundbreaking satire, but gets the job done as a run of the mill stoner comedy. Yet the whole thing crumbles when the third act of “Django Unchained” invades the finale and we’re left with yet another soulless and atonally grim shootout. The dedicated performances by everyone in the cast, especially the always-welcome irreverence of Robert Sheehan (For a better example of his work, check out the BBC series “The Misfits”), deserve a much better movie. “Moonwalkers” starts off with an interesting idea and an attractive visual style, but winds up falling out of orbit. [C-]