There are two distinct yet vastly different genres that come out of the modern British cinema these days. One is the quaint and cute stories of the people of a small village putting aside their differences and coming together to help save something or the other. (Calender Girls, Saving Grace, and anything that your aunt would enjoy.) The other is the ultra-violent dark comedies centered around London’s underground mafia world. (Layer Cake, The 51st State, Guy Richie’s good films.) The feature film debut of French commercial director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet is an unholy amalgamation of these two tropes.
Moonwalkers is based around the premise that in 1969, the United States government contracted film legend Stanley Kubrick to film the moon landing. Now, if you are actually interested in the validity of that, I would suggest viewing the documentary Room 237. If you’d much rather just watch Ron Perlman (TV’s Sons of Anarchy and every freaking awesome movie ever) blow dude’s heads half off, then this is the movie for you. Perlman plays a CIA operative fresh off of three tours in Vietnam – yes, he’s well into his sixties but if Jennifer Lawrence can play a character twenty years older than she is, Ron Perlman can play one that’s twenty years younger. Despite obvious post-traumatic combat fatigue, he sees the dead bodies of his victims at inopportune times and is sent to London to convince Kubrick to take the top-secret gig.
Meanwhile in ol’ swinging Londontown – the costume and set designers go out of their way to remind the audience that this is the same era that produced Austin Powers, a down on his luck Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Blah, Blah, Blah) is struggling to manage a third-rate rock band. Part of this struggle is trying to avoid getting his genitals cut off by the local gangster that he borrowed money from. Desperate, Weasley (sorry, Grint) goes to see his successful cousin to ask for help who just happens to be the agent of…yep, Stanley Kubrick – fresh off the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The typical mistaken identity ensues when Perlman gives Grint the suitcase full of money and top secret plans. The plans get quickly tossed aside as Grint and his roommate/Kubrick stand-in (a constantly stoned Robert Sheehan) blow a good chunk of the cash at the local pub. The rest of the money is reclaimed by the aforementioned gangsters.
From here, the film is your basic fish-out-of-water story. The big, tough American goes around London beating people up until he ends up at mansion overtaken by a drunk hippie filmmaker and his flock of stoned, groovy followers. Despite constant bickering over “Creative Freedom” the commune comes together to produce a rather realistic moon landing set.
With the stress of shooting the moon landing added to his already shot nerves from Vietnam, Perlman’s character ends up getting stoned and doing acid and realizing that he doesn’t have to be angry and hurt everyone all the time. This, boys and girls, is what screenwriters call character development. Critics, however, call it lazy. With so much already going on in the film (the CIA, the gangsters, the hippies, Vietnam flashbacks) constantly reminding the audience that the film is set in the sixties, it’s a little disappointing that the filmmakers never took the time to really flesh out Ron Perlman’s character beyond him seeing dead people. Then again, maybe Rupert Grint’s affable loser was supposed to be the main character. He does have somewhat of a character arc. Unfortunately, Harry Potter’s BFF doesn’t carry the same screen presence as his more violent co-stars.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
As with all first time directors (especially those that come from commercial work), Bardou-Jacquet appears to be to preoccupied with style over substance. Throw everything up on the screen and see what sticks. Which is unfortunate because once you get used to the “community coming together” style, it flips over to “ultra-violent gun battles” and back and forth throughout. There are few laugh-worthy moments here. I would just like to see a, hopefully, more focused sophomore film from this new director.