1999. Rated R. 109 minutes.
Cast: Johnnie Depp, Charlize Theron,
Joe Morton, Clea Duvall, Donna Murphy, Nick Cassavetes
|Grade: D||Review by Jeff Vorndam|
he Astronaut’s Wife has a wonderful trailer that tells you everything you need to know about the film–AVOID AT ALL COSTS. Even though the movie wasn’t screened beforehand for critics (red flag), there were several other red flags that should have tipped me off. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized I had spent 110 minutes watching a film I need only have spent two minutes viewing.
The movie begins with a perfunctory introduction of astronaut Spencer Armacost (Johnnie Depp) and his loving wife Jillian (Charlize Theron). He is about to blast off into space, and she is predictably worried. While up in space, Spencer phones Jillian to let her know he’s all right and she is soothed. Jillian has a conversation with her sister Nan (Clea DuVall) in which Nan ominously surmises that Spencer seems like a great guy who does “all the little things right.” As we will find out, upon Spencer’s return those “little things” go from “right” to “weird” to “twisted space-freak who seeks only to repopulate the Earth with his seed.” We know something is gravely wrong immediately when NASA officials knock on Jillian’s door and tell her they lost contact with her husband for two minutes up in space. For some reason, Jillian takes this news as if they had said Spencer copulated with an alien sex fiend. She freaks out and the NASA people do little to calm her down. The point our director Rand Ravich is trying to make here is that THIS IS A BIG FREAKING DEAL. Something happened to Spencer in those two minutes–though no one could possibly know what at this juncture in time.
From this point on, the movie so closely resembles Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil’s Advocate you’d think you were watching outtakes, or perhaps a blooper reel from those two films. If The Devil’s Advocate can be seen as a parody of Rosemary’s Baby, then The Astronaut’s Wife is a parody of a parody–only instead of sly humor and self-conscious Grand Guignol, we are subjected to morbid seriousness. The greatest fault of The Astronaut’s Wife is that it believes it is a good movie rife with shocks and thrills. As I watched Charlize Theron inhabit the same role she did in Devil’s Advocate, I wondered how she keeps getting stuck in these movies. Theron invests so much energy and anguish, throwing herself into what is typically a thankless role, that it becomes discordant to see everyone around her (the writer/director, her co-stars) clanging the wrong notes.
As is typical in this kind of lazily written movie, Jillian is at first the only one who notices anything strange taking place. Or so it seems she’s the only one who’s aware… but what if EVERYONE ELSE IS COVERING IT UP? Why? Because, as we late-90s paranoid X-files-watching geeks know, the government is always trying to screw us over, and if they can align themselves with nefarious extra-terrestrial beings they’d sell out as fast as they could to save their weasely G-man skin. Despite her feelings that Spencer ain’t what he used to be, Jillian succumbs to his advances in a laughable “love-making” scene that begins against a wall in a hallway and dissolves into their bed. It’s laughable mostly because of Depp, whose fish-eyed expression and incongruous Southern accent should be sending Jillian clear Hank Hill-esque messages that “that boy ain’t right.” Nevertheless she acquiesces, and we are treated to Spencer’s peculiar plodding and robotic sexual style while Jillian half-heartedly murmurs “no.” It’s a direct rip-off of the impregnation scene in Rosemary’s Baby, where a drugged Mia Farrow is raped by Ol’ Scratch himself. This version is not nearly as exciting or terrifying, and the stylistic flourishes don’t serve to transport into the consciousness of either character. Rather, the spinning and rotating camera makes the scene unintentionally comical.
This goes on for the brunt of the movie, with Jillian cut to look like Farrow and otherwise stellar actors like Joe Morton shuffling through to wax incomprehensible theories about the 120 missing seconds. There’s a particularly obvious Suspense Scene where Jillian discover evidence verifying these wacky theories, but the lights cut out and Spencer (who appears out of nowhere constantly–one of the lesser known powers of space alien/human hybrids) startles her. There are several scenes in which one of the easiest scares to make–the “jump” scare accompanied by a loud noise–are so clumsily set up you wonder why they bother. For example, the music will build to a mighty crescendo just as–gasp–someone appears behind her! Don’t they realize that the music makes us count on the scare and if there weren’t a musical cue we might actually be surprised?
I’d like to be able to say the ending ties it all together, like The Sixth Sense’s does. Instead, we get a few pyrotechnics and a gaping plot hole. Ask yourself (if you dare not heed me, and watch this film), why didn’t the alien just do this beforehand? Why wait until now? Because they had to end the picture, that’s why. For that, I am thankful.
Grade: D...Theron’s watchable enough to keep the movie from an F, though the filmmakers squandered the opportunity for much-welcome nudity.
Note: Jeff later changed his rating for this film from a D to a D-.
Review © September
1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 1999 New Line Cinema Productions, Inc.