The Astronaut Farmer (Warner Brothers, PG)

film_astronaut_smAre we really supposed to believe that Audie wouldn't instinctively know a spaceship would cost an assload of money? Seriously?






If there's one thing a rock star, professional athlete, or cowboy would rather be, it would probably be an astronaut. And who hasn't dreamed of that, at least a little? Floating weightless in cool, dark space and seeing the whole world at once; being able to experience something few others will ever even come close to. The Astronaut Farmer tries to capture that magic for everyone.

Charlie Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) is one of the lucky few who came close to realizing his dream as a young man in NASA's space program. But when a family tragedy causes him to leave his post, Charlie refuses to give up his goal. Wife Audie (Virginia Madsen) and their three children support him as he builds a rocket ship—in the family barn, with a trailer serving as mission control—and plans to launch his own space mission.

film_astronautThe Astronaut Farmer wants to make the audience as excited about Charlie's undertaking as he is, and while the film has lots of heart and some good ideas, it leaves too many questions unanswered to really get us there.

One huge problem is that the film's founding premise—a private citizen struggling to fly in space—has been overtaken by real-life events. Charlie builds his ship without government interference, but when he attempts to purchase several tons of rocket fuel, he alerts the attention of the FBI.

Several government agencies then descend upon the Farmer family to stop his space flight because "no civilian has ever done this before," and it's thought to be too dangerous and possibly a threat to national security. Well, no civilian has ever orbited the Earth (as Charlie wishes to), but on October 4, 2004, civilian craft SpaceShipOne did actually go into space. Not only is that flight never mentioned, the filmmakers pretend it didn't happen and that there's no way anyone not associated with NASA could venture into the cosmos. We can all easily look up the truth, so that's just silly.

There are lots of nagging points left open by this movie. How does Charlie manage to build a massive spacecraft alone? Why doesn't Charlie get in trouble when he endangers several people—including his own family—as he attempts to launch? How is the barn not destroyed? I mean, hello, rocket flames meet wooden structure.

Most importantly though, how does Audie not realize Charlie's jeopardized the family's ranch by blowing all their money on his rocket? She only finds this out after her card is declined at the grocery store. Are we really supposed to believe that Audie wouldn't instinctively know a spaceship would cost an assload of money? Seriously?

The Astronaut Farmer obviously means well. The filmmakers want us to believe in ourselves, live our dreams, and not let anything stop us. Unfortunately, the film can't find the right balance between the real and the fantastical, so things end up not making a whole lot of sense.

Thornton and Madsen work as the folksy couple thrust into so much craziness, despite the messy material they're given. Thornton is perfectly down-home and modest but searingly focused. For Madsen though, I have to say, it's a bit sad to see her settle into so many roles (three in the past two years) as "tough but supportive and sexy wife" after her Oscar-nominated turn in Sideways a few years ago. She's proven she can handle much stronger material. | Adrienne Jones













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