LET THE FREAK FLAG FLY: ‘Moonwalkers’ proves balancing comedy with violence isn’t easy

Jan 26 • ARTSY SMARTSY, FEATURE SIDEBAR, Film, Reviews, Interviews and FeaturesNo Comments on LET THE FREAK FLAG FLY: ‘Moonwalkers’ proves balancing comedy with violence isn’t easy

One of the things I’ve learned from my monthly deep dive into the world of OnDemand cinema is, more often than not, I end up watching movies with a lot of promise. Ultimately, they fail to deliver. That could be due to any number of reasons. Perhaps the creative endeavor was larger than that of which the filmmakers were capable—or maybe the film is an obscure idea not clearly realized. Maybe the movie is nothing more than a cheap cash-grab, featuring actors who are more than willing to appear in garbage as long as the check clears (like one of the 14 films Nic Cage does every year). The new comedy “Moonwalkers” falls victim to two of these three: It’s a large creative endeavor that never finds its rhythm.

DARK COMEDY: ‘Moonwalkers’ with Rupert Grint and Ron Perlman, lacks the kinetic energy of a good crime-caper comedy. Courtesy photo.

DARK COMEDY: ‘Moonwalkers’ with Rupert Grint and Ron Perlman, lacks the kinetic energy of a good crime-caper comedy. Courtesy photo.

Viewers can see “Moonwalkers” was trying to be a brash, violent, dark comedy. It follows a mentally troubled CIA operative who’s trying to bribe Stanley Kubrick into staging the moon landings. It’s 1969, and NASA is just about to launch Apollo 11 into space with one goal: Land Americans on the moon. The problem: People in the government aren’t wholly convinced the mission will be a success. In order to guarantee America gets the victory lap it so richly deserves, they decide to hire the mastermind behind “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Kubrick) to shoot moon-landing footage to use in case the mission goes awry.

Jonny (Rupert Grint) is a struggling talent manager trying to pay back debts to a group of shady gangsters who are threatening to cut off his genitalia with rusty gardening tools. Through a series of unfortunate coincidences, Jonny winds up face-to-face with Kidman (Ron Perlman), the CIA agent designated with pulling off the hoax and claiming he’s Kubrick’s agent. Kidman is in rough shape. He wanders around in a perpetual haze of anger and hallucination, shell-shocked from a tour in Vietnam. He’s constantly dealing with nightmarish images, whether he’s awake or asleep. In his fragile state he’s an easy mark for Jonny, who manages to con him out of a briefcase full of cash.

Unfortunately, Jonny isn’t the sharpest rusty tool in the shed, and the money ends up stolen by thugs to cover his debts. When Kidman shows up looking for his money, the two form a convenient partnership to get the money back, and try to stage the fake moon landing at a commune of hippie artists.

“Moonwalkers” is a harmless little confection; an ultra-violent, occasionally funny, pitch-black comedy that lifts off but never achieves orbit. Folks can see what kind of movie it wanted to be. It has the feel of early Guy Ritchie crime-caper comedies, but it lacks the kind of crackling, kinetic energy of films like “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.”

The cast is certainly game. Rupert Grint is a likable guy with some good comedic timing. Ron Perlman seems like an odd choice. He’s more frightening than funny, though sometimes his deadpan grimace generates a few chuckles. Perlman is such a violent, expressionless piece of granite that it becomes almost impossible to root for him. Even though he is charming enough, his character is a moppish, well-intentioned fop with a malfunctioning moral compass.

On paper “Moonwalkers” is one of those wacky character comedies that should be jam-packed with crazy characters generating funny moments. However, those moments never materialize, despite having opportunity. The supporting cast is uninspired and never really gels as a grand comedy ensemble that directors Judd Apatow, Richard Curtis or the aforementioned Guy Ritchie are capable of putting together.

There are a few good off-kilter moments and an absolute mental conclusion. A symphonic crazy plot reaches its inevitable conclusion with a heaping helping of ultra violence. Balancing comedy and violence isn’t easy, and “Moonwalkers” proves it. There are tonal wrinkles throughout the film that could have been ironed out in the hands of a more adept director. Still, there’s some fun to be had in this gonzo acid-trip caper of a  movie. “Moonwalkers” plants its freak flag firmly and flies it with pride.

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