After failing to locate the legendary Stanley Kubrick, an unstable CIA agent must instead team up with a seedy rock band manager to develop the biggest con of all time-staging the moon landing.
Cast: Rupert Grint, Ron Perlman, Robert Sheehan, John Flanders, Eric Lampaert
In 1968, Stanley Kubrick made a little sci-fi-tinged art film called 2001: A Space Odyssey (perhaps you've heard of it). In July 1969, NASA landed a man on the moon for the first time with the Apollo 11 mission. The story goes that NASA faked the moon landing and enlisted Kubrick to make it look convincing. This conspiracy theory, a long-time staple of the internet and crackpot stoners everywhere, is the basis for the ultra-violent, absurdist "comedy" Moonwalkers.
The film starts before we even realize it. We follow some Viet-Cong soldiers through a dark, fog-shrouded jungle. We see a big headed, burly, platinum-haired soldier attack them with his bare fists. Before long, this same soldier is revealed to be attacking the pillows in his apartment. This is Kidman (Ron Perelman, B-movie star, character actor and, recently, TV villain on Sons of Anarchy; perhaps you'll recognize him), a CIA-trained Vietnam vet. A phone call lifts him from his PTSD-influenced night terror and into a different kind of nightmare.
Colonel Dickford (Jay Benedict), a cigar-chomping military type, wants to create a fake moon landing. He summons Kidman to go to England and recruit Stanley Kubrick to the cause. Meanwhile, a down-on-his luck young wannabe rock manager called Jonny (Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter film series; perhaps you know it) owes money to a local London gangster. Happening into his cousin's office, he lucks upon the following: a cocaine-induced nosebleed forces his hyper-stylized talent agent cousin (Stephen Campbell Moore of Bright Young Things; if you haven't seen/heard of it, you should have) to leave the room right before his scheduled meeting with Kidman, who is there to negotiate for his client Kubrick's involvement in the deception for a hefty fee. Jonny happens to be there, and manages to enlist his spaced-out bearded friend Leon (Robert Sheehan) to impersonate Kubrick and get the money. A night of costly debauchery ensues, and the rest of the money is taken by the gangster's go-fer's the next morning before Kidman can realize his mistake. The rest, as they say, is history.
Between a rock and a hard place, Kidman trusts Jonny to enlist his bizarre Bohemian avante-garde filmmaker friend Renatus (Tom Audenaert) to create the fake moon landing, which soon balloons in budget, cover story (a rock opera?) and ridiculousness. You know what Goebbels said: "The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed." So, the group attempts to put one over on the American Space Program, CIA, and Military in order to better the Soviets in the Space Race.
The film is the directorial debut of Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, who conceived of the original story and enlisted screenwriter Dean Craig (both the 2007 and Neil LaBute's 2010 versions of Death at a Funeral) to "flesh out" the proceedings. Though the film has a bizarre mixture of tones invoking both drugged-out hippie films of the 60s (including the Yellow Submarine-style credits and a kind of Easy Rider-esque acid trip at Renatus' compound - really any sequence at Renatus' compound, in fact), Vietnam-era war films, mild and generic Kubrick homages (it misses the boat on many of these, but more on this in a moment), and bloody, violent, darkly-comedic British gangster films, it never manages to balance between them.
Although the film should be, as the trailer suggests, a kind of movie reference nirvana for film geeks, and Kubrick was and remains one of our greatest filmmakers, when it comes to Kubrick homages, we're left wanting. Sure, there's the doggystyle-positioned woman as porcelain/glass coffee table in the agent's office, as well as the moment when Perelman beats a gang to a bloody pulp to the tunes of Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie" in a biker bar bathroom - in flashes of slow motion to boot (A Clockwork Orange); that first meeting with Dickford, which does everything it can but evoke the smoke-filled office and Sterling Hayden-esque voice of crazy, desperate bureaucracy, while Renatus' voice occasionally evokes memories of Peter Sellers' iconic title role (Dr. Strangelove); the young girl who seductively sucks on a frozen popsicle for Kidman to no effect (Lolita); and the obvious use of the beginnings of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" for the start of the fake moon landing (2001 itself). Unfortunately, it's all a bit off, and the lack of Full Metal Jacket references for a mentally-tortured Vietnam vet are a missed opportunity.
Performance-wise, there's Perelman, always enjoyable but not particularly likable here as a crazy, violent hatchet-man of sorts. Then there's Grint, too young and squeaky-voiced to be engaging as the straight-man to this insanity (Rhys Ifans, David Thewlis, or even Bill Nighy might've provided the right kind of notes). Benedict never quite goes as over-the-top into Hayden territory as he could as the Colonel overseeing the venture. I did, however, greatly enjoy the work of Sheehan, slightly dead-eyed, as Leon, who does (one must admit) look a bit like a shambling, hippie-ish Kubrick of Swingin' 60's London. There's a small chuckle to be had when he is told by Jonny to grab his stuff and get out ASAP when Kidman is first looking for them, and he says "I better just take this apple" before adding, "Just in case." Or the moment during the attempt to film the fake moon landing when a suit has taken an ax to the back (don't ask), and Leon says, "You knocked the flag over." So he alone does what can be done with the material. Then again, nobody exactly phones it it. It just all feels slightly off.
Oddly, this is the second film I've seen revolving around a Kubrick impersonator after the (actual) true-story-based Color Me Kubrick (2005), in which John Malkovich played an effeminate con artist near the London set of Eyes Wide Shut (1999) using his sort of clueless charisma to obtain carte blanche on the director's reputation. That wasn't particularly ground-breaking either but somehow the sheer absurdity equaled greater dividends than the bloody farce of this story does.
Unfortunately, this film devolves into such a bloody, violent tale vaguely in the vein of Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) by the end, before its sitcom-ish "None of this was necessary" punch-line (punctuated by Perelman's deadpan delivery of the film's half-nihilistic/half-playful last line of dialogue), that while it doesn't end with a bang, it also doesn't end so much with a whimper as with a shrug.