Monday, November 07, 2016

The American Astronaut (2001) *****

First of all, “The American Astronaut” is not science-fiction, even though it involves flying around the solar system. What it is is a bizarre, comedic musical, and one of the most fun movies I've ever seen. A guy named Corey McAbee wrote, directed, and starred in this gonzo, fever dream of a movie back in 2001.

McAbee plays Sam Curtis, a space cowboy roaming the solar system in a space ship that looks like a model train engine. In a bar on the asteroid Ceres, he trades a cat for a suitcase that supposedly contains “a real, live girl.” His plan is to take the girl to the all-male, mining planet of Jupiter, where he will trade her for a teenage boy. He will then take the boy to Venus as a lucky gift to the women who inhabit that planet, women who can reproduce without a man, but still need an infusion of male genes once in a while, lest they become “too high-bred and snippy for even themselves to stand.”

It's a good plan, but in wanders a complication in the form of Professor Hess, a psychopath with a powerful gun and a grudge against Sam. When Hess isn't blasting everyone Sam comes in contact with into a gray powder, he is announcing that it's his birthday. Or doing a song-and-dance. Did I mention the singing and dancing? The movie is full of funny, crazy songs written and performed by McAbee and his friends.

I could write a thousand more words, and you still wouldn't really have an idea what “The American Astronaut” is like. There just isn't anything to compare it to. (Perhaps the closest comparison would be "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension".) The movie is filmed in a stark, black-and-white that makes everything look sort of grimy, but makes grimy, weathered faces look beautiful. The songs are funny, and they stick with you. All laws of physics and reason are tossed out the window, and you are invited to completely sever your attachment to regular, literal storytelling, and just enjoy the ride. I first saw this at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival,where it earned a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. I've watched it a few times since, and it is always hilarious. You can find it on DVD, and I highly suggest you do.

5 stars out of 5

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