Film Review: Underwhelming ‘Moonwalkers’ has its funny moments

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About a month ago, an interview with Stanley Kubrick — in which the great director explains how he collaborated with NASA to fake the first moon landing — went relatively viral on YouTube. It is not from the new comedy “Moonwalkers” (though the timing of its release seems suspicious).

The interview was, of course, phony, with an actor who looks no more like Kubrick than I do (which is: a little).

The legend of the faked moon landing started not long after the actual event. A substantial number of Americans didn’t believe such a feat was possible, which made conspiracy theories inevitable. (The concept helped inspire Peter Hyams’ 1977 film “Capricorn One.”)

At some point in the ensuing decades, rumors of Kubrick’s involvement started to spread. It made a certain skewed sense. After all, Kubrick had shot “2001: A Space Odyssey” not long before the Apollo mission and had upped the level of special effects way beyond the science fiction epics and/or B-movies that preceded it.

If you were the government, wouldn’t he be the logical one to approach?

The idea that Kubrick would have done such a thing is another issue. Thirtysome years of reclusiveness have since made him a mythical figure. (I say it was Thomas Pynchon who faked the footage. Go on: prove me wrong.)

In the ’90s, a con man named Alan Conway went around London, scamming meals, favors, and money by impersonating Kubrick. The director’s combination of fame and secrecy made him a perfect target for preelectronic identity theft. (John Malkovich played Conway in “Color Me Kubrick,” a 2005 movie about the con.)

In “Moonwalkers,” director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and screenwriter Dean Craig make no claims of Kubrick involvement. They posit that NASA sends a formidable (i.e., scary) CIA operative named Kidman (Ron Perlman) to London to hire Kubrick. Through a series of mishaps, he ends up handing all the production money over to Jonny (Rupert Grint), an inept aspiring band manager.

The two are exact opposites, but, when Kidman catches up with the fleeing schnook, the latter convinces him that they can easily fake things...that is, fake Kubrick’s footage of the fake landing.

The team Jonny assembles isn’t impressive: Jonny hires a German experimental director (Tom Audenaert) and a bunch of constantly tripping... mods?... rockers?... whatever. They construct a psychedelic moon set and outfit extras in alien costumes (left over from an adaptation of “Hamlet,” we are told).

There are a bunch more standard farce elements in the mix: Jonny’s lead singer thinks they are staging his rock opera; a gang of East End thugs are after Kidman’s suitcase of money; a score of armed CIA goons are sent as enforcers to make sure that the film gets finished and that nobody survives to squeal.

“Moonwalkers” tries to recreate the look of Swingin’ ’60s London and has moments of homage to “Dr. Strangelove,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Performance.” Many plot elements are comic versions of elements from the last of these.

Despite some funny moments, the movie is underpowered. It’s mostly mild and affable, though the filmmakers spoil the mood with a few gratuitously gory effects that feel as though they were left over from a different project.

The film’s major plus is Perlman, who plays the crazed, violent, tortured CIA op with a level of intensity that is the movie’s funniest touch.


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).