“Moonwalkers” – 2015 BiFan Film Review

Stanley Kubrick is an auteur whose life, personal eccentricities and unrealized projects can sometimes eclipse his very short but dense filmography, for which we have an ever-growing cottage industry of scholars, publications and documentaries offering interpretations.  To add to the canon of Kubrickiana, Antoine Bardou-Jacquet and screenwriter Dean Craig’s picture “Moonwalkers” (2015) takes a current in-fad theory – that the infamously reclusive director was involved in an elaborate conspiracy with the U.S. government to film the actual moon landing in an out-of-the-way soundstage – and turns it on its head.

Part stoner comedy, film about film, cockney gangster actioner and genre lampoon, the film stars Rupert Grint, who you may know as the “Harry Potter” film franchise’s Ron Weasley.  He plays Jonny, a bumbling loser who has dreams of conquering the entertainment world even though he has a reputation of being a complete fuckup as his schemes always backfire. At the start of the film he manages a group of second-rate Led Zeppelin rockers fronted by a man whose primary gimmick in his stage show is touch himself. Needless to say, Jonny placed all his eggs in the wrong basket. And to make matters worse, like in many of these showbiz stories, Jonny owes a lot of money to a very scary gangster.

Ron Perlman (left) and Rupert Grint in "Moonwalkers." (still courtesy of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival)
Ron Perlman (left) and Rupert Grint in “Moonwalkers.” (still courtesy of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival)

Threaded around Jonny’s story is CIA Agent Kidman’s covert mission to contact Kubrick and convince the director to work for the government. The always-stellar Ron Perlman does a bang-up job as Agent Kidman, a burned out Vietnam vet suffering from horrific visions of all the countless people he has murdered or ordered killed. Through a fluke accident with spilled coffee, sensitive government documents, and Jonny being at the right place at the right time, Kidman ends up mistaking Jonny for Kubrick’s agent. A meeting eventually occurs between Jonny, Kidman and “Kubrick,” played by Jonny’s bearded and drug-addled roommate Leon (Robert Sheehan).

Of the various primary and tertiary characters in “Moonwalkers,” Kidman is the only one who goes from threat to friend by the end of the film.  Perlman, as usual, portrays menacing and dangerous while still making you laugh and root for the man as he commits quite brutal acts of violence on people who get in his way. Kidman’s gestus are his violent hallucinations, but you never get a sense that he is a bad man even though it’s very clearly shown that he is a brutal and merciless killer.

In fact, throughout the picture there is the looming threat of gangsters, trigger-happy G-men, and the possibility that the U.S. government’s ruse to trick the public will end in failure and humiliation, but “Moonwalkers” plants its flag down as a comedy very early on and thus the stakes don’t really feel that high. As a result, I instead picked apart the mise en scène in an attempt to try and spot all the various references and homages to Kubrick’s films.

If you are expecting to see a parodic or a Daniel Day-Lewis style performance by an actor playing Kubrick, then you’ve come to the wrong film. Bardou-Jacquet and Craig push the real Kubrick to the sidelines. Instead of being beholden to depicting a realistic “What if?” scenario of Stanley Kubrick directing the moon landing, the film is more of a loving homage to Kubrick’s films and to London during an age when youth culture and the “establishment” were engaged in a very real, and sometimes violent, cultural Cold War.