Thursday, July 2, 2009

206) The American Astronaut (2001)

206) The American Astronaut (2001) Dir: Cory McAbee Date Released (OOP DVD): February 2005 Date Seen: July 2nd, 2009 Rating: 4/5

A warning to anyone about to watch writer/director Cory McAbee's 2001 science fiction musical/space western The American Astronaut: ignore the ending coda. It attempts to resolve a resolution-less story in a manner that makes flying off into the sunset in an alien Cadillac look downright conclusive. Though McAbee's plot runs out of steam about three-quarters of the way through its scant 92-minute-long runtime, the way that it develops its characters' sexual psychoses is what keeps the film intriguing. The coda unsuccessfully tries to dispel the blunt suggestions of attraction between Samuel Curtis (McAbee), a space trader and "The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast" (Greg Russell Cook), hints which are the lifeblood of the film. 

This is a minor but important setback for a film that ironically insists that what makes outer space so weird and wonderful is that how it warps the minds of its travelers in ways that cannot be expressed. All the major players in The American Astronaut are at least slightly sex deranged. Curtis, played by a 40 year-old McAbee, flirts with "The Boy" in an interminable montage sequence full of slow-motion giggling and exchanged furtive glances. "The Boy" is supposed to be 16 years-old and the idol of a sex-crazed planet of grimy male work slaves, none of whom have ever seen a creature with a Y chromosome. He is being shipped to the Venusians, a planet of women able to procreate on their own that will use the teen as their stag. Meanwhile, Prof. Hess (Rocco Sisto), Curtis' arch-nemesis, looks to have had some kind of taboo altercation with our hero for which he has always blamed Curtis, though that something is thankfully never fully explained.

These libidinal hang-ups are fittingly expressed not through expository dialgue but through winning amateur musical numbers and the thick fog of shadows that surround the men thanks to cinematographer W. Mott Hupfel III's rich black-and-white photography. The film thus does not ever capably provide a uniform polish to its story. Instead, it zooms along on a boundless supply of energy and visual ingenuity. Atmosphere trumps explanations here, making the final coda a negligible speedbump in an otherwise charming and demented alternative space opera.

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