For a film almost universally slammed by critics the world over, “Moonwalkers” is surprisingly fun, if one takes the film as black comedy versus the straight up kind. Unloved and misunderstood, this “inspired by true conspiracy theories” movie may be an oddity, to be sure, but it is great fun to watch.
Rupert Grint struggling to find life after Harry Potter does a pretty fair job in this quirky French/Belgian production. Working with Ron Perlman and Robert Sheehan (who totally rocked as the Irish lad who could not die in E4’s “Misfits“) Grint manages to bring this psychedelic black comedy to life.
Set in 1969, “Moonwalkers” is directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet (it is his first feature length film) and is written by Dean Craig. Perlman is the mentally damaged CIA agent Kidman, Grint is unsuccessful band manager Jonny and Sheehan is junkie/actor Leon. Kidman is sent to London, with a briefcase full of money, to hunt down Stanley Kubrick to film a fake space landing in case the Apollo 11 mission fails.
Jonny is mistaken for Kubrick’s agent and the band manager convinces Kidman that he can arrange a meet with the director and he asks Leon to impersonate Kubrick. They convince Kidman to fork over the cash but it is then stolen by the loan shark “Ironmonger Dawson” (played by the superlative Scottish character actor James Cosmo) who Jonny owes money to.
The entire film is a combination love letter to Kubrick and a black comedy of errors. Perlman’s character is clearly suffering from PTSD and yet he can still take out multiple “enemies” with alarming ease.
Take, for example, the scene in the pub toilet. Kidman is outnumbered and, in terms of size, “out-gunned.” The CIA agent never even pauses when taking down the thugs in the men’s room. The entire fight is set against the light and lilting music of Gioachino Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” it is the blackest of comedic moments.
The scene is keeping to the Kubrick homage , that is apparent throughout the film. The Men’s Room scene is also very evocative of “A Clockwork Orange” where Alex beats his Droogs to the sounds of Rossini as well. If it were not apparent that the filmmakers wanted to salute Kubrick before, this scene would make it abundantly clear.
“Moonwalkers” is set up to have the CIA hire the moon landing done and then have all the participants murdered to keep the whole thing secret. This dark and murderous plan is eased up with some very funny moments as well as some brilliant touches of authenticity.
In the scene where Kidman (Perlman) and Jonny (Grint) confront the Ironmonger (Cosmo), aka Dawson, and his thugs. The loan shark is making an elaborate sculpture of the London Bridge out of matchsticks. He then goes on to list the other historical landmarks he has constructed. In English prisons, inmates are allowed to purchase matchsticks and glue in order to make things in their cells. A little touch of truth that helps to sell Cosmo’s character.
There are two shootouts in the film, both take place around Dawson although the first one is instigated by Kidman. The CIA man tells the thugs to sit still and no one will be hurt, he immediately proves himself to be lying when he starts shooting Dawson’s men.
Later there is a more prolonged fire fight between the CIA heavies who have come to execute those who have worked on the faked landing film as well as Kidman, presumably, and the Ironmonger’s troops who have come to “sort those c****s out.”
Perlman shows that he can do comedy brilliantly regardless of the role he is playing. The scenes after Ella (Belgian actress Erika Sainte) gives Kidman acid for his headache are hysterical with Perlman getting laughs without dialogue. (The bit with the door knob is just beyond funny and it is done silently.)
American critics slammed the film upon its 2015 limited release and it is easy to see why. Set predominately in London at the time of flower power, free love, tuning out and turning on the film feels more British than American.
Moonwalkers pokes fun at the “Yanks” (but not too much) as much as it needles the infant space program and the American’s enthusiasm for lying about the mission if it fails.
The film looks spectacular. The clothing, the sets and the atmosphere all feel like ’60s London. At the end of the day, Perlman makes the viewer laugh, and cringe at his character’s tendency to move into violent mode at the drop of a hat and Grint makes the audience like him.
It is hard to understand quite why critics panned the film on release. It is as blackly comic, in it own way, as the 2011 film “God Bless America” with the added bonus of a lot of references to Kubrick’s work. This is a cracking film. Running at 107 minutes the it does not feel overly long.
“Moonwalkers” is a little “Kubrick,” a touch of black comedy, and generally good fun. It is streaming on Netflix at the moment so head over and watch it. A 4 out of 5 star film well worth experiencing.