Star power is wasted in a journey to nowhere.
Brad Pitt has his pick of the litter when it comes to choosing scripts...heck, he's as A-List as they come and is damn near Hollywood royalty. That's why this misadventure through space feels especially disappointing, considering that Pitt's bright-burning star-power gets sucked into the black hole void that is "Ad Astra."
Co-written and directed by James Gray ("The Immigrant"), "Ad Astra" is a slow, contemplative and melancholy story about a son and his long-lost father. The conceit is that this would be a relatable story regardless of setting - a boy needs his dad even in deep space - but one that has its roots planted in humanity right here on Mother Earth.
Some undefined time in the future, Pitt plays astronaut Roy McBride, son of the famous astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), whose picture hangs right next to other astro-icons like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Daddy McBride embarked on a journey to find alien life but was presumed dead somewhere outside the orbit of Neptune long ago. Young Roy has made a name for himself as an unshakable tactician whose heart-rate barely even flutters, even when his space station starts to explode, sending him hurtling towards Earth's outer atmosphere.
Turns out, the big explosion was caused by some sort of super-dangerous space rift, and its source may actually have something to do with Clifford McBride's doomed expedition. Roy is called in on a rescue mission of sorts, and is perfectly fit for the job given his demeanor and his heritage.
The vibe of "Ad Astra" is way closer to "2001: A Space Odyssey" than "Starship Troopers," but it's nowhere near as effective as the Kubrick classic (even if it aspires to be). There are some early scenes that take place on the Moon - including a moon-rover car-chase sequence that was pretty cool - but nothing else seems to work. There are strange characters that come in and out - like Donald Sutherland as an aging space Colonel or Liv Tyler as Roy's estranged wife - that seem shoe-horned in for maximum dramatic effect but serve seemingly little other purpose. Tommy Lee Jones seems to just be collecting a paycheck.
Given that Roy is a person that feels nothing and doesn't allow himself to experience emotion, the movie sadly follows suit. What "Ad Astra" leaves us with is not a bold vision of the future, or even an effectively small human story set in space. Instead we're treated to a predictable father/son drama that isn't worth the time.
I'm not sure if there's life out there in the universe, but if there is, you won't find it in "Ad Astra."
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Mystery.
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Anne McDaniels, John Ortiz.
Co-Written and Directed by James Gray ("The Immigrant," "Two Lovers," "We Own the Night," "The Yards," "Little Odessa").
"Ad Astra" opens everwhere on Friday, September 20th, 2019.
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