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The Astronaut Farmer (1/10)

by Tony Medley

It strains credulity to think that anyone would make a movie that strains credulity like this one. If it isn’t the dumbest movie ever made, it’s close. It’s no surprise that it’s a Billy Bob Thornton vehicle because he specializes in dumb movies (“Bad Santa” 2003, “Love, Actually” 2003, “The Alamo” 2004 and on and on). This one is his pièce d’ résistance.

We are to believe that a rancher, Charles Farmer (Thornton) can build a rocket all by himself to put him in orbit. But that’s just the start. This film has so many idiotic premises that one becomes overwhelmed. Consider:

  1. Charles has borrowed $600,000 from the bank, mortgaging his 320-acre cattle ranch in the process. So we are to believe that one can build a rocket that can hurtle a satellite into earth orbit for $600,000. This guy should be the head of NASA!
  2. Later in the film Charles’ wife, Audrey (Virginia Madsen) comes into a $300,000 inheritance. With this she pays off the bank (to which she owed $600,000) and has enough left over for Charles to build yet another rocket. Talk about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes!
  3. Charles and Audrey have three children and live on a 320 acre cattle ranch. But Charles has no visible job or means of support and Audrey works as a waitress in a diner. These people clearly should be co-Secretaries of the Treasury.
  4. When the rocket takes off the barn is left pretty much unscathed. Let’s see, this thing is full of highly flammable rocket fuel that does, in fact, ignite. But it does absolutely no damage to the barn. Remarkable!
  5. Audrey is the most understanding wife in the history of the planet, but also the most irresponsible. She is an enabler, supporting her husband’s madness to the detriment of her children.

Oh, there are more, but why bother? Director-writer-producer (the last two with his brother, Mark) Michael Polish apparently intends this as some sort of allegory for people following their childhood dreams, because Charles keeps repeating that he wanted to be an astronaut as a child and preaches this throughout the movie. But pursuing a childhood dream can only be reasonable if the dream is possible. A young boy who wants to play major league baseball or a young girl who wants to become another Meryl Streep yearns for something that is possible, no matter how improbable. For someone to devote his life to something clearly impossible, like building a rocket in his barn that will soar him into earth orbit all by himself, is madness.

The film had a spot where it could have ended and had a good moral, one that would have enforced the idea that a dream must be possible in order to be something to pursue. Unfortunately, the Polishes continued after this good ending point by adding an ending that rewards a mad pursuit of an impossible goal.

There is nothing entertaining about this film. In addition to being ridiculous, it is slow and boring.

February 16, 2007