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Houston, We've Got a Problem



The Astronaut's Wife (R)
New Line Cinema

Let's say you were going to write and produce a big-budget, mainstream Hollywood film about an alien genes, planning all the while to use his spawn to achieve world dominance through aerospace-industry means.

Let's say we, as viewers, could buy all the above.

Would we then expect an ending to the story that followed logical lines, that expanded andAmerican astronaut who, while on a mission in space, is infiltrated by space aliens and comes back to Earth to fulfill their mission.

Let's say the guy (Johnny Depp), a good-looking charmer with an adoring wife (Charlize Theron), impregnates said wife with completed the premise, or at least raised provocative questions?

Of course, we would. And that is precisely why this wannabe suspense thriller falls with a deadening thud in its last five minutes. It's sort of like if NASA sent up a space shuttle, it exploded in mid-flight, and the powers-that-be declined to let us know the fate of its crew.

The Astronaut's Wife, as written and directed by rookie Rand Ravich (can that possibly be a real name?), goes to extreme measures throughout to not appear hystrionic or reactionary, suspicious or formulaic, then lays a whopper of a blowout science-fiction ending on us -- disturbing the tone of the entire film and asking us to make a heroic leap of suspended disbelief at the same time.

I cry foul.

Whoever approved this script for production should have insisted on a better ending (including the part about dressing the distressed heroine up in a bad wig, representing her new life).

Johnny Depp gives it the old college try as Spencer Armacost, a good old boy/ pilot/astronaut, lost in space then returned to earth forever changed. Depp brings a smarmy, greasy charm to the role, fleshing Spencer out as an opportunist who gets by on good looks and charisma while carefully shielding his real, more diabolical motives.

And Charlize Theron is beguiling as his wife, Jillian, adoring but never completely blinded, stumbling about in a pregnant stupor, wondering if her husband can possibly be the creep she thinks he is.

The Astronaut's Wife maintains the audience's attention throughout the first hour by carefully honing in on the closely-held dynamics of the Spencer/Jillian relationship, building both affection and tension. But there are false moves throughout that raise the expectation of a sellout. Jillian is given a seemingly incompatible sister (Clea Duvall), who serves little purpose except as a set-up to demonstrate Spencer's duality. Spencer goes to work for a sleaze-bucket captain of industry with no questions asked.

And what is this? Depp has the tips of his hair dyed red. No self-respecting NASA man would be caught dead in the type of shop that does this kind of color job.

Ultimately, the film is built on a slender premise that could only pan out in the most expert hands. Ravich, I dare say, was simply not up to the task. Excellent cinematography, top-notch production design and strong performances notwithstanding, what he delivers is, in the end, an aborted mission.

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