Fly Me To The Moon

**

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Fly Me To The Moon
"For all its star-power there's not much shining."

I don't think I'm alone in my unease whenever film or television suggests an element of fakery around the Apollo landings. Admittedly, my use of the plural there is part of the problem, the '11' on the mission whose landing is very nearly 55 years ago is because there was more than one. I can and will complain about a number of technical elements that misrepresent the missions but they obfuscate a simple story. Boy meets girl.

Channing Tatum, specifically, as Cole Davis. He's his usual charming self, playing a role that's indebted to actual people like Gene Kranz and Deke Slayton and Rocco Petrone and Ike Rigell. Like Kranz (and Armstrong and Aldrin) he's a Korean War veteran, like Deke he's medically grounded, like Petrone he's a launch director and like Rigell he's a man of faith. That's a lot of people for one person to be, but Scarlett Johansson's Kelly might have him beat.

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She's in advertising, the exciting kind from the era of Mad Men back when everything was scotch rather than 'and coke'. Brought on to help NASA sell the moon landings, at the behest of a shadowy apparatchik with a taste for whisky and lemon. Woody Harrelson's Moe Berkus is an instigator, a provocateur, and in and around a gently comic film barely a stretch. Gently comic, I think, because from an initial font choice that reminded me of The New Yorker the film is (anagramatically) here ken to 'wry'. I can't remember laughing out loud, except perhaps in recognising Johanssen's husband Colin Jost as the gormless Senator Cook. He's technically independently famous, a writer and on-screen performer for Saturday Night Live, but his presence here is more of an opportunity to use art that was close to borrowed from Marvin The Martian.

A succession of familiar faces occupy the cast. Ray Romano started in stand-up but he's done better work for Scorsese and his function here is to over-egg puddings of portent. Expository cigarettes and unsuppressed emotion do a lot of lifting for Tatum's characterisation, which underserves him as an actor and belies those biceps.

Johansson is supported by an aide, Ruby, played by Anna Garcia. One of several sitcom veterans, she may be more familiar to audiences of streaming platform Dropout. She's one of the better turns in a film that doesn't just feel old-fashioned because of the volume of period detail. I mentioned complaints about technical elements, so buckle up.

Perhaps literally, as there are some flying sequences. There's a moment where I'm amazed Cole didn't look in a rear-view mirror, but more so that he must have flown photo-reconnaisance or ground attack in a P-51 Mustang. Kranz (and Aldrin) flew the F-86 Sabre in Korea, but it doesn't have a second seat. The T-33 does though, NASA operated them, and it is an outgrowth of Lockheed's P- (or F-) 80 Shooting Star. It is not a particularly famous aircraft though, the F-86 is in Godzilla and the F-80 is in The Iron Giant. It doesn't really matter that there's fewer flying examples, the 'day for night' sequence looks sufficiently artificial that it wouldn't have mattered. Elsewhere there's apparent nominative confusion. There's a wooden model of a Consolidated PB2Y Coronado on Cole's desk. While NASA did operate a Coronado it was the Convair 990, a four-engined jet-airliner, not the propellor-driven four-engined flying boat. I'm doing them the credit of having acquired the wrong Coronado, it may just have been what was available.

The notion that a camera was a late addition to the Apollo 11 mission is a nonsense. Apollo 8, whose 'Earthrise' photograph is heavily used in the plot did a live television broadcast that Christmas. There were plans to mount a camera from 1962 onwards, and two different versions flew. Apollo was all about preparation and contingency, indeed there's an entire film about using an Australian radio telescope as part of it. The Dish might now go under a few radars, but it's a treat. Possibly more so than this, because the attempts to marry a snappy romantic comedy to a conspiracy thriller and/or heist film fall short.

When the order is given to put the camera on the Lunar Excursion Module the line might as well have been lifted wholesale from Apollo 13, and that's not the only place where dialogue that isn't archive audio feels very familiar. Scripting duties are split between Bill Kirstein (usually a cinematographer) and previous collaborator Keenan Flynn (Beyonce video producer), and Rose Gilroy in a d├ębut feature. Her most notable previous work is being the child of actor Rene Russo (various, including some Lethal Weapons, some Thors, and Nightcrawler) and writer/director Dan Gilroy (The Fall), Star Wars TV show Andor, and Nightcrawler). Social media outrage about 'nepo babies' misses that this has ever been how the industry has worked. Functioned might be more appropriate, however, because as good as all these components are Fly Me To The Moon doesn't.

It's pleasant enough, but to call a day 'breezy' leaves a lot in the lap of other components of climactic conditions. For all its star-power there's not much shining. Proceedings therefore feel a little damp, if not cold. If I'd had my disbelief a little more suspended I might not have tried to track down flights and discovered that Heathrow's Terminal One had just opened under that name, or been minded to figure out if the probable Pan Am uniforms were borrowed from the TV show.

It's got some moments of invention, Greg Berlanti uses split-screen to some effect though it's more metatextual in The Fall Guy and some time-lapse sequences really leverage the influence of CG. He's even able to elicit (or at least capture) some good feline behaviour, as a black cat crosses paths with our protagonists on several occasions. A fourth feature for Berlanti, and effectively a fourth comedy after Love, Simon, it's gentle enough. Indeed if I weren't a rivet-counter I'd have found nothing demanding about it. That includes, unfortunately, the attention it seeks.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2024
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Marketing maven Kelly Jones wreaks havoc on NASA launch director Cole Davis's already difficult task. When the White House deems the mission too important to fail, the countdown truly begins.

Director: Greg Berlanti

Writer: Keenan Flynn, Bill Kirstein, Rose Gilroy

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Woody Harrelson, Ray Romano, Jim Rash, Anna Garcia

Year: 2024

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: US, UK

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