Fly Me To The Moon

Fly Me To The Moon

Lifting off in time for the 55th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the crowd-pleaser Fly Me To The Moon deliberately fudges the facts of the Space Race to spin an alternate history yarn that plays like a cheeky counterpart to For All Mankind. That Apple TV+ series, in addition to recent films First Man and Apollo 11, have approached the subject of the moon landing under more understandably serious terms but in his latest feature, director Greg Berlanti seems more concerned with the central romance than the outcome of the momentous spaceflight. Even if the sparks between the two leads can’t quite compete with the fire from space shuttle ignitors, the playful story has just enough gas in the boosters to get things off the ground.

It’s 1969 and NASA launch director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) is running out of money and time to make good on JFK’s promise to the nation at the beginning of the decade to land man on the moon. Enter Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), a Don Draper-styled ad exec who is brought in to pitch both Congress and the American people on why the underfunded space agency deserves their attention. Though Davis and Jones routinely butt heads after an enkindled meet-cute — the former as straight-laced as they come, with the latter having no compunction about stretching the truth — a mutual admiration between the two emerges. A third party enters their orbit in the form of Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), a Nixon-backed government official in charge of overseeing a “backup” production of the moon landing to save face for the Russians, should the cameras on the spacecraft malfunction.

While part of Fly Me To The Moon does invoke a faked version of the lunar landing, Greg Berlanti and his screenwriter Rose Gilroy don’t delve deep into the decades-old conspiracy theory and instead treat the subplot with a waggish “what if?” curiosity. Tasked with creating a realistic set that could pass for the moon, Jones recruits a perpetually flustered director — the self-proclaimed “Kubrick of commercials”, a nod to Kubrick’s purported role in the “staging” of the moon landing — played by Jim Rash. A little of his “I can’t work like this!” schtick goes a long way but the mechanics behind how the production crew attempts to disguise a sound stage as the moon are right in line with the film’s chipper energy. Think Argo by way of Green Book (with even fewer gravitas-bludgeoned pitstops) and you’d be on track with the kind of peppy timbre Berlanti is working to cook up.

Johansson and Tatum certainly lay on the charm as thick as they can but their characters tend to work better on their own terms as opposed to when they’re meant to come together. Johansson’s Jones is a fun gender-swapped take on a “Mad Men” Manhattanite, maneuvering the misogynistic marketing world of the era with wiles and wit to spare. Tatum’s Davis is a beleaguered straight arrow whose earnestness and traditional work ethic aren’t treated as punchlines but rather as obstacles for a mission with a dwindling deadline. Thematically, they’re believable as both foils and flirts for each other but the actors don’t quite have the out-of-this-world chemistry you’d hope for. Originally Chris Evans was slated to take up the Tatum role and based on his previous work with Johansson, that pair would have played excellently off one another.

Similarly, Berlanti was a substitute in the director’s chair for Jason Bateman, who left the project a few months in, reportedly due to creative differences. Based on Bateman’s recent directorial output for series like Ozark and The Outsider, it’s not hard to imagine he’d want to take this story in a darker and more caustic direction. Instead, we get a much more lighthearted tale that opens with a montage catching us up with Space Race headlines, concludes with a shot of a pesky feline that endlessly eludes escape and countless Motown needle drops in between. There have been so many accounts of the Apollo 11 mission which treat it with befitting reverence that it doesn’t hurt to have it as a backdrop for a more mushy iteration and those who prefer their movies to have more minimal stakes may even prefer Fly Me To The Moon.

Score – 3/5

More new movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Longlegs, a horror thriller starring Maika Monroe and Nicolas Cage following an FBI agent as she uncovers a series of occult clues that she must solve to end the terrifying murder spree of a serial killer.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Divorce In The Black, a romantic thriller starring Meagan Good and Cory Hardrict about a young woman who is left devastated when her husband abandons their marriage and concerned about his actions when she tries to move on.
Premiering on Disney+ is Descendants: The Rise Of Red, a fantasy musical starring Kylie Cantrall and Malia Baker about the daughters of the Queen Of Hearts and Cinderella as they team up to stop an event that would cause grave consequences.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup