‘Astronaut’ fails to launch

Linda Coburn

“If we don’t have our dreams, we have nothing.”

With a tag line like that and a PG rating to boot, you know “The Astronaut Farmer” is either going to be a sap-fest or one of those rare films that leaves you truly inspired. Unfortunately, this movie falls into the first category.

The premise: A former NASA astronaut-candidate-turned-rancher builds a rocket in his barn, with the intent of riding into space and orbiting the Earth.

As you might suspect, the U.S. government doesn’t look kindly on Farmer (the last name of Billy Bob Thornton’s character although he’s actually a rancher) ordering 10,000 pounds of rocket fuel to launch what is basically a manned missile. Meanwhile, the bank doesn’t look kindly on Farmer defaulting on his loans to fulfill his dream.

It does have its humorous and charming points and even one or two moments of suspense but not enough to launch this mishmash into the rarefied atmosphere of the truly stellar movie that it aspires to be.

The scenery is beautiful and romantic with some awesome sunsets.

Having lived in Texas, I can vouch that it never looked this good.

But there’s also a lot of silliness, such as when a panel of experts is convened to decide whether to approve the rocket launch. Can you imagine the head of the FAA, a NASA astronaut (played very nicely by Bruce Willis in an unheralded cameo), a CIA guy and several other government bureaucrats all leaving their cushy offices to go to this flyspeck of a town in Texas to hold a hearing in the high school gym? C’mon.

I was expecting more quirkiness from Thornton (“Bad Santa,” “Sling Blade”) who plays his role way too straight.

I mean, this guy is building a freakin’ three-story rocket in his freakin’ barn – he should be kinda nutty, dontcha think?

Virginia Madsen (Mrs. Farmer) looks darn good for a 40-something woman and she and Thornton had good on-screen chemistry.

Max Theriot, Farmer’s son (named Shepard, natch), was one of the most believable characters.

It was nice to see a real teenager, not a dressed-down teen idol.

Save your money and rent this one or, better yet, wait for the world premiere on television – because this really feels more like a Hallmark special than an A-list movie.

Overall Rating: C+

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