Originally released in the weeks after 9/11, The American Astronaut suffered from one of the worst possible opening dates in history. Not many people were in the mood for a Musical, Western, Science-Fiction film. In the four years since then, the film has slowly gained a cult following at film festivals and midnight shows. And now, it's finally available on DVD and can be enjoyed by the larger audience it deserves.
The story begins when Captain Samuel Curtis (the American Astronaut of the title, played by Cory McAbee, who also wrote and directed the film) arrives at the Ceres Crossroads Bar. He meets the Blueberry Pirate and agrees to bring the Girl in a Suitcase to the mining colony of Jupiter and exchange her for the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast, the mascot/morale booster for the all-male colony. Curtis must then bring the Boy to Venus and exchange him for the remains of Johnny R., the former King of Venus.
It gets more complicated: The maniacal Dr. Hess is stalking Curtis and killing everyone he comes in contact with, plus there's a whole barn-load of silver miners suffering from space sickness that want Curtis to bring their child back to Earth, and not least of all, a dance contest that needs to be won. It sounds like a spoof, but though the film certainly has its campier moments, it rises above them.
Part of what makes The American Astronaut so much fun to watch is the world it creates. It's a steampunk future where people can still fix things by pounding on them with a hammer. None of this chrome and nano-tech nonsense. The spaceships resemble giant boilers and train engines. Suits and special effects are largely homemade, and matte paintings are used extensively throughout. Other sets include a swamp, a music hall, and the notorious Ceres Crossroad Bar. Extraterrestrial places look common and everyday. The characters inhabit them and make them more than mere sets.
In look and emotional content, the film resembles old serials like Flash Gordon and Radar Men from the Moon, mixed with the pop sensibilities of the early Love and Rockets comic books (the stories featuring Ace Mechanic Rand Race.) The viewer gets the impression that they've stumbled into the middle of a larger story, and that the characters will continue even after the camera stops rolling.
The Billy Nayer Show provides the soundtrack, and the songs range from shouted power ballad ("Smiling") through country duet ("Hey Boy") to the weirdly catchy ("Girl with the Vagina Made of Glass") with plenty of stops in between. The instrumentals alone will stick in your head for days afterwards.
Of course, this film will not be to everyone's taste. Some of the jokes are intentionally painful to watch. (If you can sit through the "Hertz Donut" joke you'll be okay.) Inter-personal relationships are on a grade school level (part of the film's humor.) But, if you're in the mood for a fun movie, The American Astronaut is worth checking out, and probably unlike anything you've ever seen before.
Justin Howe was born and raised in the wilds of suburban Massachusetts. For reasons beyond his control, he must live in the vicinity of New York City. He attended the Odyssey Writers Workshop in 2005 and is on a first-name basis with his local librarians.