A film review by Craig J. Koban April 13, 2022

MOONFALL zero stars  

2022, PG-13, 130 mins.

Halle Berry as Jo Fowler  /  Patrick Wilson as Brian Harper  /  John Bradley as K.C. Houseman  /  Michael Peņa as Tom Lopez  /  Charlie Plummer as Sonny Harper  /  Donald Sutherland as Holdenfield  /  Eme Ikwuakor as Doug Davidson

Directed by Roland Emmerich  /  Written by Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen, and Emmerich

 

For the absolutely hypersensitive when it comes to spoiler culture...consider yourself warned...

MOONFALL is not a movie.  It's a dreadful how-did-this-get-made accident masquerading as a movie.  

I doubt that there exists any scientific instruments on the planet that could accurately measure just how galactically awful this new Roland Emmerich sci-fi disaster film is, other than to relay my own personal experience of watching it via Amazon Prime last week (remember, this received no Canadian theatrical release despite being ironically shot in Canada, more on that later): I was just 30 minutes into my stream and I was thoroughly convinced that I was watching the most idiotically scripted disaster picture of my life.  MOONFALL comes across like an Ed Wood Jr. film made on a $140 million budget.  The best thing it contains is a cute cat affectionately named Fuzz Aldrin.  Beyond this cute astronaut referenced fur baby, MOONFALL is a laughable abomination. 

But wait, you might be saying, haven't I been an apologist of Emmerich's disaster film catalogue over the years?  The answer is yes, I have.  His career hit popular pay dirt with 1996's INDEPENDENCE DAY (which merged the flying saucer invasion picture with the disaster genre) that later moved into such planet-decimating porn like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and 2012 (both of which I thought were hoots).  Sitting through MOONFALL, however, made me increasingly less forgiving of this man going back to the proverbial well, mostly because I found myself simply laughing at it as opposed to with it.  This is a triple crown offender: (1) It has stillborn performances from some respectfully talented stars that look hopelessly bored, (2) The scientific (ha!) dialogue they have to utter is nonsensical hogwash of the highest order (mostly because the film heavily dabbles into preposterous conspiracy theories) and (3) the VFX here range from serviceable to wretched, which is something that I usually would never attribute to an Emmerich disaster flick.  MOONFALL is said to be the most expensive independently financed film ever made (yes, even more so than the STAR WARS prequel films), but more often than not it looks like a cheap and disposable direct to video effort.  And that's kind of mind blowing, all things considered. 

MOONFALL begins by introducing us to a pair of astronauts on a routine mission: Jo Fowler (Halle Berry, giving one of her stiffest performances ever) and Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, faring a bit better, but looking mostly embarrassed).  Something otherworldly and apparently extraterrestrial hits their ship, and the plot then abruptly flash forwards ten years to show the aftermath: Jo has somehow become a higher up at NASA, whereas Brian became disgraced after the unexplained incident and is a petty drunk estranged from his former employer and family.  Fate steps in when it appears that the moon has astonishingly shifted its orbit and is on a collision course with Earth.  While the collective brain matter at NASA are struggling to understand what is causing this potential planet-destroying phenomenon, a lowly conspiracy theorist named K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) thinks he knows what's happening:  It's his hypothesis that the Moon is not a natural body, but rather a Death Star-esque manufactured satellite (I kid you not) that's hollow inside and housing a captive white dwarf star to give it energy.  K.C. also claims that NASA has been keeping this all a secret since the original Moon landings, for fear of inspiring mass panic back home that the Moon is just a man-made megastructure. 

 

 

Dear.  Lord. 

Anyhoo', Jo and her team deduce that a solution could save the planet and shift the Moon back into its normal orbit (it involves nuking it, which doesn't sound like a great idea, under the circumstances), but she can only go on this mission if her former BFF and wingman in Brian tags along (oh...and because he has befriended that whack-job conspiracy theorist, guess who also gets to suit up to blast into outer space with them?).  For reasons far too head spinningly inane to comprehend, Jo, Brain and K.C. journey to the Moon to discover its secrets and save the world, all while we get to witness the plucky misadventures of Brian's criminal teen son in Sonny (Charlie Plummer) alongside Jo's young son and his foreign exchange student nanny (wait...what!?) trying to navigate their way to safety while the planet is literally going towards an Alderaan-like fate because the Moon is sooooooo dangerously close. 

Okay, let's talk about that latter subplot, which battles for screentime with the main story arc of Brain and his team hurdling towards the Moon.  I howled incredulously as the astronauts steal an old space shuttle from a museum and get it back in working order in no time flat (yup...sure...uh huh).  Once they manage to get into space the film denotes an unbearable amount of time on Sonny taking command of a Hummer with his two new friends in tow as he tries to steer his way around the apocalyptic events that are now being unleashed on the planet (Moon debris comes crashing down to Earth with impacts that would make the Hiroshima A-bomb look like a fire cracker).  Oh, beyond trying to save their collective lives from this Moon debris, Sonny and his new surrogate family also have to face off against angry thugs that want their vehicle.  To say that I cared so very little for Sonny and his allies during this chunk of the film would be a grand understatement, which is not assisted by the character development and dynamics that are completely D.O.A. here.  Plummer in particular looks, well, stoned through much of the film; he's just totally blank faced and doll eyed, and not much else.  When he does reunite with his dad at one point in the story it's about as dramatically lifeless of a father/son moment as I've ever experience in a film. 

Plummer shouldn't get all of the performance blame.  Both Wilson and Berry (both proven to be capable of giving Oscar caliber performances in their career, with one actually winning a trophy) are so painfully phoning in their acting here that you never once buy their reactions to this nightmarish predicament (it's also telling that most of the human beings in this film have shockingly nonchalant reactions to hell literally erupting on earth).  The dialogue these "smart" characters share is stunningly bad, like "Everything we know about the known universe has just gone out the window" to "The planet has suffered five extinctions...this is going to be the sixth!" to "We must move to higher ground, it's the only possible chance of surviving!"  Yikes.  It's like the writing is ripped straight from the Tommy Wiseau playbook.  Of course, we get the annoying comic relief in what the film thinks is the endearing conspiracy theorist in K.C., and I will say that the British actor gives the most animated performance in the whole film.  But maybe - just maybe - this is not the correct time in history to be making a loose cannoned conspiracy theorist and arm-chair Internet scientist the hero of an end of the world film?   

The only thing that could have saved MOONFALL from complete qualitative freefall is its visual effects and action set pieces, but everything here looks so half hearted and mediocre, especially considering its massive budget ($140 million is not chump change).  When you watch the similar destruction mayhem in Emmerich's past films (even ones from decades ago) they came off as infinitely more convincing than what we're giving here.  To be fair, MOONFALL was a COVID-19 shot disaster picture, which obviously is why Montreal greenscreen stages were so poorly doubled for Colorado locales (that, and one car chase sequence set in that state's snow covered terrain looks like a poorly rendered video game cut scene from twenty years ago).  The city destruction montages here have no sizeable weight or grandeur either; it's more numbing than frighteningly exciting.  Perhaps the silliest VFX moment of any film of recent memory occurs when the heroes' stolen Space Shuttle tries to blast off just as a skyscraper sized tidal wave bares down on them.  I appreciate the ludicrous ambition of a cockamamie moment like this, but it's all played as serious as a heart attack and the low-tier CGI work here leaves a lot to be desired. 

MOONFALL is the kind of film that I would love to have real members of NASA screen and react to via a MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 video commentary, mostly because Emmerich's film offensively makes NASA scientists look like bumbling imbeciles (compared to K.C.'s Hollow Moon Megastructurist hard core believer) and because any semblance of real science in this film is thrown out the window with recklessly abandon.  I don't demand these types of films be grounded and real, per se, but MOONFALL might have been more tolerable of an experience if it just drummed up any other reason for the Moon to be hurtling towards Earth, but the manner that Emmerich and company enthusiastically embrace crank theories makes this film all the more worthy of mocking disdain.  This is not the first time that the German-born director has tackled ludicrous conspiracy rhetoric (look at his rightfully forgotten ANONYMOUS, which postulated a bizarre pseudo-historical take on the real legacy of William Shakespeare), but this is his hardest to swallow effort.  When all is said and done, MOONFALL is an infinitely and idiotically brain-dead and borderline dopey piece of science fiction that makes ARMAGEDDON look like INTERSTELLAR.  

One last thing in closing.  Mongrel Media here in Canada publicly stated that it was too risky to release this film here a few months back because of our then COVID wave led to cinemas in the most populist provinces being closed down.  I call B.S. on that, mostly because other high marquee films were being released around the same time (that, and a movie of this scale and cost has never been denied a release in the Great White North before).  I think the distributor knew the kind of putrid film that they had on their hands and felt that it was unreleasable and probably box office poison, so their chosen course of action was essentially...yeah, why ever bother. 

Why bother with MOONFALL, indeed.

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