‘Fly Me To The Moon’ Review: Sans Jupiter and Mars

Peter Paras reviews the good-looking but blandly made Fly Me to the Moon, starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.
User Rating: 5

Long before Deep Fake was a thing, “Was the moon landing staged?” was arguably one of the biggest conspiracy theories of the pre-social media era. Director Greg Berlanti’s Fly Me To The Moon harkens back to a more innocent era of truth versus fiction. Extremely loosely based on the real-life mission to the moon, the Cape Canaveral set tale stars Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum leaning into cheeky rom-com mode more than any kind of deep dive into the Nixon administration’s cover-ups. Considering the politics of 2024, a candy-colored retro flick is certainly preferable… to a point.

Featuring a light as a feather script by Rose Gilroy (The Edge of Sleep) the Columbia Pictures/Apple Original is a smooth top town convertible driving down a seven month road trip to the Apollo 11 lift off. Those good feels witness two of Hollywood’s hottest stars switching the driver’s seat the whole way through. A staple of any solid rom-com is the rat-a-tat back-and-forth banter on display. Yet that can only get a film that’s way too long (136 min) so far. Adding to that, a surprisingly low wattage of chemistry between the leads results in merely a perfectly serviceable summer flick. Thankfully, some pleasant moments with the supporting cast, which includes Jim Rash, Ray Romano, Woody Harrelson, and a black cat, allow the countdown to one of the most televised events in history to be, at the very least, amusing.

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The year is 1969, and the decades-long space race between the U.S. and Russia has reached a fever pitch. After the tragic deaths of the Apollo 1 crew, NASA has struggled for relevance and the substantially big financial needs of the galactic task of being the first country to put someone on the moon. As far as the top brass at The White House are concerned, Apollo 11 must succeed. While all those involved with such a ginormous endeavor are exceptionally talented engineers and creative scientists, to say nothing of the actual astronauts, “smarts” and “determination” are not the problem. Image is.

Enter Kelly Jones (Johansson), a PR master who knows truth rarely pays the bills, much less garners viewers when the competing news is the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Cole Davis (Tatum) is the head of the launch team dedicated to being safe and responsible. Will these two ideologies clash? Will these good-looking stars look tastefully stunning the whole time? Yes, and yes.

As far as a fun version of real-world events, Berlanti’s talent to keep things moving mostly works, yet the overall effect is rather middling. Ironically, the last time I felt this kind of “it’s fine” for a comedy was last year’s Apple Original, The Beanie Bubble, which starred Elizabeth Banks and Zach Galifianakis. That was a much more cynical look at marketing during the 90s plushies craze yet the both films seem fine with softball-level criticism for the bulk of the run time. Kelly wants to advertise that Neil Armstrong and his crew all wear Omega brand watches and drink Tang. Never mind if they actually ever do. It’s lying to a point, a kind of moral no-no that would barely register a “dislike” in 2024.

Looking at the costumes, set decoration, and tons of oldies, Berlanti and his team clearly loved AMC’s modern series on counter-culture advertising, Mad Men. Seeing Johansson in a colorful two-toned orange blouse and pants is the right amount of breezy fun. Tatum’s broad-shouldered, thick neck fits NASA-approved turtle neck shirts as if he walked off the cover of LIFE magazine. Costume designer Mary Zophres similarly dressed up Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to a Jazz-inspired T in the Oscar-winning La La Land.

An early marketing pitch for the Ford Mustang set in a New York high-rise screams Don Draper cool à la smoking and cocktails contrasted against Kelly’s progressive take on gender and, best of all, seat belts. It’s not too far off to say one can enjoy just watching the costumes and groovy cars the way fans of director Nancy Meyers’ work envy her characters’ modern kitchen countertops. That’s not meant as a slam but as a way of describing how best to view such tasteful, risk-free entertainment.

Then again, even though the will they/won’t they between Kelly and Cole never quite generates heat, the supporting cast steps up. Community‘s Jim Rash plays an eccentric commercial photographer hired by Kelly to fake the moon landing. Even famed real-life filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, believed by conspiracy theorists to have directed the supposed fake moon landing footage, is called a hack from Rash’s ridiculously named auteur Lance Vespertine. Ray Romano and Woody Harrelson show up for their respective dad and shadow agent modes. Like the real-life people who landed astronauts on the moon, everyone has put in the work.

It’s a shame, then, that Fly Me To The Moon is too often as bland as a can of Tab despite an eager cast and crew ready to see their project to the stars while never quite lifting off.

Fly Me To The Moon opens in theaters on July 12, 2024.

5
Average
Written by
Peter Paras is pop culture writer who has been reviewing films for the past fifteen years. Raised in Chicago—but an Angeleno since the start of 21st century—he has plenty to say about films, television, videogames, and the occasional YouTube channel. He’s a frequent guest on Out Now with Aaron and Abe, as well as TV Campfire Podcast. His work has been published at Why So Blu, Game Revolution and E! Online. His favorites include: Sunset Blvd, Step Up 2 The Streets, Hackers, Paris Is Burning, both installments of The Last of Us, Destiny 2, and Frasier.

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