Drama PG Running time: 1:44
IMDB rating: 6.3 Aspect: 4:3, Wide; Languages: English, German; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, German; Audio: DD 5.1
If you can give The Astronaut Farmer the big, bounding leap of faith it requires, you'll probably enjoy this good-natured film about the importance of holding on to your dreams. The title character (and the dreamer in question) is Charlie Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton), a Texas ranch owner and former aeronautics engineer who's got a homemade rocket in his barn and a dream to blast into space. Even though Charlie's deeply in debt and threatened with foreclosure, his wife (Virginia Madsen) and kids are deeply supportive of Charlie's Earth-orbit mission, even when he attracts the glaring attention of a seasoned Air Force colonel (played by Bruce Willis, in an uncredited role), the FAA, the FBI, and the national media. "If we don't have our dreams, we have nothing," says Charlie at a particularly desperate impasse, and this loopy, offbeat, and unabashedly sentimental drama embraces that message with disarming sincerity. Suspension of disbelief is a challenge when the movie glosses over so many of its logistical details (like, where does one buy an old NASA space capsule?), and in trying for a kind of Capra-esque, eccentrically Western spin on the American dream, the Polish twins--director Michael and cowriter/actor Mark (making their mainstream debut after such indie hits as Twin Falls, Idaho and Northfork)--are only marginally successful in making Charlie's ambition genuinely believable. The film works much better as a kind of post space-age fable for families, and it's just involving enough to make its climax emotionally rewarding, mostly because Thornton, Madsen, and their costars (including Bruce Dern and Tim Blake Nelson) handle the delicate material with the earnestness it needs to be marginally convincing. Elton John's "Rocket Man" is predictably heard over the closing credits (accordingly, Charlie's launch-time is "zero hours, nine a.m."), and at a time when several adventurous entrepreneurs (including Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos) are gradually developing a civilian space-flight industry, The Astronaut Farmer is an admirable yet forgivably flawed reminder that we should never stop reaching for the stars.