Movie Review: ‘Fly Me to the Moon’

Movie Review: ‘Fly Me to the Moon’
Movies

Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Opening in theaters July 12th is ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ directed by Greg Berlanti and starring Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jim Rash, Anna Garcia, Ray Romano, and Woody Harrelson.

Related Article: Scarlett Johansson and Jason Schwartzman Talk Wes Anderson’s ‘Asteroid City’

Initial Thoughts

Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ has ambitions almost as large as that of the men and women of NASA who are trying in the film to land a human being on the Moon. It wants to be a rom-com. It wants to be a screwball comedy. It’s kind of a conspiracy thriller. And it’s a sweeping historical drama about the effort to send the Apollo 11 mission into space – and it’s that last version of the film that works best, when it gets its turn onscreen.

The problem with this enjoyable but uneven movie from director Greg Berlanti (perhaps best known as the architect of the now-defunct Arrowverse) is that it never fully decides what it wants to be, and its best parts battle for space with the parts that don’t work as well. Yet it’s still fun in a lot of spots, with great work from Scarlett Johansson and scene-stealing performances from Woody Harrelson, Jim Rash, and the second plucky cat we’ve seen in a major summer movie following the debut of Frodo in ‘A Quiet Place: Day One.’

Story and Direction

Scarlett Johansson, Woody Harrelson, director Greg Berlanti and Channing Tatum on the set of 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Scarlett Johansson, Woody Harrelson, director Greg Berlanti and Channing Tatum on the set of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

It’s the 1960s (Shane Valentino’s production design is spot-on) and NASA has been having trouble getting it up – a rocket into orbit, that is. The Soviet Union is beating the U.S. in the space race and the government (transitioning from Lyndon B. Johnson to Richard M. Nixon) is desperate to show up the Russians even as Congress is threatening to defund the space agency. The Apollo 11 mission to send three astronauts to the Moon is a last, best hope, and no one is more acutely aware of this than stiff-necked, square-jawed launch director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum), who is racked with guilt over the deaths of the Apollo 1 crew years earlier.

Enter marketing genius Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), who we first meet as she shows up a roomful of auto execs with both her knowledge of their vehicles and the way to sell them – all doing this while wearing a fake baby bump no less. Kelly, it seems, is okay with bending the truth to get her message across – a skill that has come to the attention of the government in the person of Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), a clandestine fixer-type who, on the orders of the president, wants Kelly to take over public relations for NASA and Apollo 11.

She dutifully heads down to Florida, where she first encounters Cole in a meet-cute in a bar, neither knowing who the other one is until she turns up the next morning at NASA, ready to work. And work she does, nabbing brand sponsorships for the mission from the Tang juice drink (which was actually on Mercury and Gemini missions) and Omega watches, while getting Congressional money flowing again.

She also hires actors to do TV interviews pretending to be the more camera-shy and awkward NASA employees, including Cole’s right hand man Henry Smalls (Ray Romano) and Cole himself. Cole is opposed to all this, of course (“I’m not letting this mission be turned into a commercial”), but eventually comes to admire Kelly’s abilities to get the public’s interest in the mission reignited, while admiring Kelly herself.

Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson in 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Their flirtation – and everything else about their relationship and the mission – is put to the test, however, when Moe gives Kelly new orders: as a backup plan in case the landing goes awry, she is to produce a staged fake landing. Although she’s dubious, Moe has enough leverage over her about her past that she has to move forward, hiring the director she uses for ads (Jim Rash, doing a kind of Stanley Tucci-on-steroids from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) and recruiting Moe’s government spooks as actors. Cole is kept completely in the dark – especially when Moe commands that the fake landing will be what the public sees whether the real one is successful or not.

The mechanics of how this will work or not (“I should have hired Kubrick,” says Kelly at one point, a knowing in-joke about the legendary director’s alleged participation in just such a scam) make up both the screwball and conspiracy thriller portions of the film, swinging wildly in tone but perhaps offering up the funniest material. Then there’s the rom-com aspects, which don’t provide Johansson and Tatum with enough room to build any real chemistry, pushing them together more because the script demands it.

Finally, there’s the historical drama. A lot of this film stretches what little truth is in it to the breaking point, but it still feels like the story Berlanti really wants to tell. The pressure, determination, and sheer scale of the Apollo 11 mission are well-captured, along with sweeping, even awe-inspiring shots of the rocket and the launch gantry both before and after the powerful launch sequence.

This is the part of the film that works best, that we wanted more of. But ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ is programmed very much to entertain us from all angles, and the script by Rose Gilroy shoves four different movies into the film’s (far too long) 132 minutes even if the other narratives are not as solidly satisfying. It’s a lot of movie, and we can feel it trying to be greater than it is, but it doesn’t always get there.

The Cast

Woody Harrelson, Scarlett Johansson and Jim Rash in 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Woody Harrelson, Scarlett Johansson and Jim Rash in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Scarlett Johansson cuts a ravishing, commanding figure in her tight skirts and ‘60s hair, and her Kelly Jones is a more complex character than the movie initially allows her to be. But she successfully pulls back Kelly’s layers, showing us both her fearlessness and agency, while also hinting at a darker past that has blurred the lines between truth and fiction both in real life and in what she does for a living. She has the most resonant emotional arc and it looks like the actor is having a ball throughout the film.

We wish we could say the same about Channing Tatum, but we don’t know if it’s the way his Cole Davis is scripted or that he might not be the best fit for the part. For reasons unexplained, Davis is the only NASA employee who doesn’t wear a button-down shirt and tie; even though he’s supposed to be kind of a nerdy, socially awkward scientist, he’s still in the body of hunky Channing Tatum. The character either comes off as brooding or pissed-off; we don’t remember seeing him crack more than a hairline smile. The initial parallel between Cole and Kelly – both of them loners who live for their work – is nicely handled, but he doesn’t develop the spark from there to match Johansson’s natural allure.

The scene-stealers are Woody Harrelson as Moe Berkus and Jim Rash as director Lance Vespertine. Harrelson plays Berkus with both an air of menace and his own personal brand of kooky conspiracy-theorist energy; when Kelly asks Moe if aliens have landed on Earth (after he hints at such), he intones ominously, “They walk among us.” As for Rash, his Lance fires off demands, insults, and biting observations at a steady, sarcastic clip, treating everyone as his subjects despite his lack of any notable filmmaking credits. When one fake astronaut blows a rehearsal and dangles helplessly from a wire, Lance scolds hilariously, “I’m just going to leave you there to think about what you did.” Rash and Harrelson easily get the biggest laughs — along with the cat, whose part in all this we’ll leave undisclosed.

Final Thoughts

Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

It seems to us that the marketing for ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ has been somewhat misleading, emphasizing the rom-com aspects of the movie over the more compelling space-race drama and the funnier (if way more far-fetched and barely believable) conspiracy hijinks.

Moviegoers coming to see a snappy, sexy romantic joust between Johansson and Tatum may be a bit disappointed – although they may also be pleasantly surprised by just how gripping the space drama can be. ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ does feel too long at times and doesn’t always juggle its many narrative strands well, but it does do its best to entertain – and when it works, it lifts off and soars.

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ receives 6.5 out of 10 stars.

“Will they make history… or fake it?”

PG-132 hr 12 minJul 8th, 2024

Showtimes & Tickets

Starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, FLY ME TO THE MOON is a sharp, stylish comedy-drama set against the high-stakes backdrop of NASA’s historic Apollo… Read the Plot

What is the plot of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’?

As the U.S. races to get to the Moon before the Russians in the 1960s, marketing specialist Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) clashes with Apollo 11 mission director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) over how to rebuild the space agency’s image. As a romance also sparks between the two, the government secretly tasks Jones with staging a fake “Moon landing” in case the real one fails.

Who is in the cast of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’?

  • Scarlett Johansson as Kelly Jones
  • Channing Tatum as Cole Davis
  • Jim Rash as Lance Vespertine
  • Anna Garcia as Ruby
  • Ray Romano as Henry Smalls
  • Woody Harrelson as Moe Berkus
Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in 'Fly Me to the Moon'.

(L to R) Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Photo: Columbia Pictures.

Greg Berlanti Movies and TV Shows:

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Originally published here.

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