MOONWALKERS (2015) review
written by: Dean Craig
produced by: Georges Bermann
directed by: Antoine Bardou-Jacquet
rating: R (for strong bloody violence, graphic nudity, plentiful drug use and language)
runtime: 107 min.
U.S. release date: March 14, 2015 (SXSW) and January 15-21, 2016 (Facets Multimedia, Chicago, IL)
Everything about “Moonwalkers” is quite predictable, but I don’t care. I had a fun time watching this stupid and mostly entertaining movie. There’s enough here in this warped, cheeky and ultra-violent comedy, to add something a little unusual to my movie-watching as of late. The draw for me was the movie’s two leads – Ron Perlman (who I’d follow anywhere) and Rupert Grint (curious to see how his post-“Harry Potter” choices are going for him) – and the premise, of course: riffing off the conspiracy that director Stanley Kubrick produced and directed footage of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, so the U.S. government could cover up any potential problems with their space program. If you’ve seen the documentary “Room 237”, then you’re familiar with such a far-fetched notion and that’s what the makers of “Moonwalkers” are counting on.
This is the feature-length debut for director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and his visual sense is terrific, even if it’s a bit much at times. He delivers an odd style and humorous tone with help from a creative screenplay from Dean Craig (writer of both “Death at a Funeral” movies), who has a grand time with stereotypical misconceptions and deceptions amid a comedy laced with drugs and bloody melees. The cast seems to get a kick out of their material here which makes up for its lack of feistiness it started out with.
Right before the launch of the Apollo 11 mission, American officials were getting nervous. They had no Plan B in case the mission was a failure, knowing full well those ‘nasty Russkies’ would monopolize on their failure and become the first nation on the moon. In an effort to prevent that from happening and to ensure that the world would believe that a man walked on the moon, the government gets the idea to hire Stanley Kubrick, whose last film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” gave then the idea the auteur could shoot a moon landing, just for insurance (or reassurance) purposes.
They send in Agent Kidman (Ron Perlman), a CIA operative who’s still shell-shocked from his time in ‘Nam. He’s flown to London in order to strike a deal with Kubrick and instead of dealing with the director’s slime ball agent, Derek Kaye (Stephen Campbell Moore), he finds his loser cousin, Jonny (Rupert Grint), a down-on-his-luck manager of a pathetic pro-rog band that he mistakes for Kubrick’s agent. Jonny has his flatmate stoner pal, Leon (Robert Sheehan) pose as Kubrick, in the hopes of getting some money that will help with deep trouble he’s with the Iron Monger (James Cosmo, “Braveheart”), leader of a gang in the London underground, which will hopefully prevent him from losing his appendages. It doesn’t take long for Kidman to figure out these two idiots are trying to pull one over on him and realizing he’s in a tight spot, demands the two deliver footage of a fake moon landing or else in seven days or the two will meet their own deadline. Jonny’s only option is to employ a trippy obese director he knows named Renatus (a hilarious Tom Audenaert) – who resembles Victor Buono’s King Tut – and hilarity and nonsense ensues.
If that sounds kind of silly and preposterous – you’re right. Supposedly, some of the concept of the plot is based on an urban legend. Who knows how much is true, but I find it quite hilarious – as did the filmmakers, obviously. when Rumor has it when “2001: A Space Odyssey” was in post-production, NASA secretly approached Kubrick to direct the first three Moon landings. The footage of the launch and splashdown shown to the world would be real, but the spacecraft would stay in Earth orbit and the government would broadcast Kubrick’s fake footage, convincing gullible viewers what they were watching was the real thing. Now, who knows what would be in it for Kubrick or why he would agree to such a proposal, but “Moonwalkers” simply goes along with it and takes the pitch into delirious and violent territory, dropping cocaine, traipsing nudes and shotgun shells all over the urban legend.
As expected, one of the few reasons to see “Moonwalkers” is for completists of its two leads. Not sure Ron Weasley loyalists are ready for Grint’s work here – maybe viewers who grew up with the red-headed actor, but kids recently introduced to the “Harry Potter” films, should steer clear of this well-earned R-rated comedy. That being said – and yes, I felt I had to say it because parents will see Grint’s involvement and think more family friendly fare – I enjoyed Grint’s work here. Sure, his frantic, down-on-his-luck loser is kind of familiar, but Grint captures the characters’ paranoia and desperation convincingly. As for Perlman – yes, I wholeheartedly agree that fans of this venerable actor should check this out. His Kidman isn’t just some tough guy, which Perlman can play in his sleep, but he’s a scarred character – one who’s trying to keep visions of decaying soldiers and bloody corpses at bay. That’s the psychologically damaged side to Kidman, but I must admit, it’s undeniably fun to see Perlman walk around in a fluffy paisley blouse, trip on acid and pummel a goon with a shovel. Perlman has always excelled at roles that require he maintain a straight face while surrounding by comic insanity and he’s easily the most satisfying aspect of “Moonwalkers”.
Director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet has fun with the pairing of Kidman (one can’t think of Nicole Kidman, who starred in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”) and Jonny – one a hulking unstoppable wall used to communicating with his fists and the other a shrinking violet who’s accustomed to talking himself out of jams. Most of the movie relies heavily on the friction between the two characters and the eventual mutual cooperation between the two as they get more and more involved in overseeing the filming of the moon landing with its inevitable issues. Both actors certainly play to their strengths, capturing nuances and broadness with equal relish. They’re both immensely fun to watch.
The colorfully detailed sets and production design of “Moonwalkers” is quite memorable. It captures the drug-infused counterculture period around 1960s London at the time. Of special note is the intricate compound where Retanus resides. The entrance to his building is walkthrough vagina and each level houses half-naked acolytes lounging in a purple haze. Ironically, the time spent in the artist’s compound feels more like Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” with its indulgent dive into decadence.
The movie’s second half definitely amps up the violence as CIA and Iron Monger gangsters collide into a spray of decapitations, bullets and swinging blades. At first, Tarantino came to mind, but a reference to Guy Ritchie’s style is more apparent when considering “Moonwalkers” in its entirety. That’s not to the picture’s benefit though, since its so obvious and detracts from the ridiculous story. Overall, by no means is this a perfect movie, but its strange and aloof tone is something I welcomed. While it is entertaining, it could’ve been more irreverent and uproarious than it actually is.