January 26, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Culture Representation: Taking place in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Colorado and outer space, the sci-fi/action film “Moonfall” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: A high-ranking NASA astronaut, a former NASA astronaut and a science conspiracy theorist all team up and sometimes disagree on how to handle an impending apocalypse where the moon is on a path of destruction to Earth.
Culture Audience: “Moonfall” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching silly sci-fi films with ridiculous scenarios and cringeworthy dialogue.
How do you make an apocalypse film so idiotic that the movie is its own kind of disaster? “Moonfall” can answer that question. This sloppy sci-fi flick has more holes in its plot than craters on the moon. It’s not even a “so bad it’s good” movie. The filmmaking in “Moonfall” is so lazy, with generic characters and a story that’s absolutely cringeworthy. Slick but not-very-impressive visual effects are thrown into the movie as a weak attempt to distract viewers from a nonsensical story that makes an atrocious mockery of NASA.
“Moonfall” was directed by Roland Emmerich, who’s known for helming a lot of “end of the world” or “monsters attack” disaster movies, but the terrible ones he’s made far outnumber the good ones. “Moonfall” is one of his worst. Emmerich co-wrote the abominable “Moonfall” screenplay with Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser. Although there are some talented people in the “Moonfall” cast, they’re stuck in a horrendous movie where they have to embarrass themselves.
The movie opens with an ill-fated NASA spaceship mission with three astronauts on board: Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (played by Halle Berry), Brian Harper (played by Patrick Wilson) and Alan Marcus (played by Frank Fiola)—a tight-knit trio of co-workers who respect each other. Something goes terribly wrong in space, as a massive dark force resembling a cosmic storm comes out of nowhere and seems to attack the ship.
Debris flies everywhere, causing the ship to bounce around and almost capsize. Brian is able to steer the ship back in the correct position, but Alan doesn’t make it out alive. Back on Earth, Brian insists that there’s a deadly force out in space that deliberately caused the attack. However, NASA officials say that’s a crazy idea and declare this fatal space trip to be a fluke accident.
The movie then shows Brian’s 8-year-old son Sonny (played by Azriel Dalman) sadly looking at the TV news, which is reporting that Brian, who has been fired from NASA, is suing NASA for wrongful termination. In court testimony, Brian reiterates that there’s something terrible out in space that must be investigated and stopped. NASA has labeled Brian as a mentally unstable former astronaut who has no credibility.
Sonny is unhappy not just because of what happened to his father. He’s also upset because he and his mother Brenda (played by Carolina Bartczak) are moving to New Jersey without Brian. Not only has Brian’s career fallen apart, his marriage to Brenda has also deteriorated, and they eventually divorce. Brian is also bitter because Jo, who still works for NASA, testified in NASA’s defense, and it’s ruined their friendship.
“Moonfall” then cuts to 10 years later. Brian is unemployed with a drinking problem and a bad temper. Sonny (played by Charlie Plummer) is now a troubled rebel who’s a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Sonny lives with his mother Brenda and her current husband Tom Lopez (played by Michael Peña), who owns a successful car dealership. Also in the household are Tom’s two daughters from a previous marriage: Nikki Lopez (played by Ava Weiss), who’s about 13 or 14, and Lauren Lopez (played by Hazel Nugent), who’s about 10 or 11. The family also has a vacation home in Aspen, Colorado. (“Moonfall” was actually filmed in Montreal and Los Angeles.)
An unnecessary scene in the movie shows Sonny getting arrested with a friend during a high-speed chase with police that was on live television. Illegal drugs were found in the car, but Sonny swears that the drugs belong to the friend. Sonny’s arrest just leads to another time-wasting scene of Brian showing up for Sonny’s arraignment in court and making a complete ass of himself, by yelling at the judge that Sonny is innocent. It’s Brian’s way of trying to make up for being an absentee father, but Brian’s courtroom outbursts make things worse, and the judge rules for Sonny to be held without bail until Sonny’s next courtroom hearing.
Meanwhile, level-headed Jo has risen through the ranks at NASA, where she reports to NASA director Albert Hutchings (played by Stephen Bogaert), an arrogant boss who is very condescending and dismissive of Jo. Just like Brian, Jo is also a divorced parent. Her ex-husband is General Doug Davidson (played by Eme Ikwuakor), a hard-edged military official who hangs out a lot at NASA headquarters. Jo and Doug have a son named Jimmy (played by Zayn Maloney), who’s about 8 or 9 years old. Jo has hired a college student named Michelle (played by Wenwen Yu) to be a live-in nanny who can help take care of Jimmy.
Someone will eventually cross paths with Jo and Brian and team up with them for the movie’s mind-numbing “we have to save the world” part of the movie. His name is K.C. Houseman (played by John Bradley), and he’s a fast-talking Brit who’s a conspiracy theorist and a wannabe scientist. K.C. works as a janitor at a university, where he makes secret and illegal phone calls and computer log-ins, by impersonating one of the university’s professors when everyone has left the office for the day.
K.C. is a bachelor loner who is obsessed with moon travel and how the moon can affect Earth. How obsessed is he with moon travel? He named his cat Fuzz Aldrin, as a tribute to famed Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. K.C.’s widowed mother, who uses a wheelchair and lives in a nursing home, has dementia. K.C. visits her, but she sometimes forgets who he is.
When he’s not working as a janitor who impersonates scientist professors and hacks into their computers, K.C. works in the drive-through window at a fast-food restaurant. In his spare time, K.C. has been working on proving a theory that the moon’s orbit is about to radically shift. One evening at the fast-food place, K.C. gets a message on his phone from one of the people he conned into thinking that he’s a scientist. The message has some information that indicates that K.C.’s “moon orbit shift” theory could become a reality. The theory spreads like wildfire on the Internet.
K.C. sees a newspaper report that it’s Astronaut Day at Griffith Park Observatory, where Brian is scheduled to make a speaking appearance in front of some school kids. This movie is so badly written, it doesn’t explain why a disgraced and former NASA astronaut would be invited to make this type of speaking appearance. It’s all a poorly conceived contrivance for K.C. to show up before Brian does, so that K.C. can start giving his own “astronaut” lecture to the children.
When Brian arrives (he’s late because he overslept, probably because of his drinking problem), he’s irritated to see that K.C. has taken over the lecture. Brian doesn’t know who K.C. is, but Brian can easily see that K.C. is some kind of fake scientist, even though K.C. insists that he’s a “doctor.” K.C. tells Brian that he believes Brian about there being a mysterious force that’s in the universe and that it could be why the moon’s orbit will shift. K.C. still doesn’t make a good impression on Brian, who summons security personnel to have K.C. thrown out of the building.
Meanwhile, Jo is at NASA declaring to anyone who’ll listen: “We have to go back to the moon! We have to see what’s going on up there!” Some astronauts are quickly sent back to the moon, as if this type of space trip is as easy as booking a plane flight. But this expedition to the moon ends badly. It’s the first time that NASA officials see the “mysterious force,” which now has octopus-like tentacles than can kill.
It isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. Earth gets hit with tidal waves of floods everywhere. It’s at the same time that K.C. and Brian have met up again in a diner, because at this point, K.C. is the only person who will believe Brian. The flooding destroys the diner, right in the middle of K.C. and Brian’s conversation. It’s one of the unintentionally hilarious parts of the movie.
K.C. thinks that the mysterious force in the universe has caused the moon to veer off course and triggered disastrous weather on Earth. In addition to floods, there are massive earthquakes and storms. People start panicking, and there’s widespread looting. Military officials, including a stereotypical “nuke ’em all” type named General Jenkins (played by Frank Schorpion), argue about whether or not the moon should be attacked with nuclear weapons.
Jo and her boss Albert are at NASA headquarters when she somberly says the obvious to him: “Everything we knew about the universe is out the window. We’re not prepared for this.” There’s so much mass chaos that Albert abruptly quits his job as director of NASA and says that Jo can be in charge and have the job. He gives his NASA badge to her as “clearance.” Yes, the movie really is this stupid.
Guess who’s going into space to save the world? Brian, K.C. and Jo make the trip under a series of jumbled and preposterous circumstances. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot where Sonny, Brenda, Tom, Lauren, Nikki, Jimmy and Michelle all end up together, as they fight for their lives in the snowy mountains of Colorado, in an attempt to get to a safety bunker. Somehow during this life-or-death situation, Sonny and Michelle find time to make goo-goo eyes at each other and act like they want to date each other when this pesky apocalypse is all over.
Why are they in the Colorado mountains? There’s some nonsense in the movie that the higher the elevation where people can be, the less likely they will be killed. Apparently, the “Moonfall” filmmakers want viewers to forget that this “safety precaution” is pointless if you’re trapped on a mountain where you could be buried in a snowy avalanche caused by earthquakes that are happening all over the world.
It gets worse. If you dare to subject yourself to this time-wasting trash movie, it might be hard for you not to laugh at the big “reveal” of why this “mysterious force” exists in the universe. The answer is supposed to make the movie look “deep,” but it’s just a pathetic attempt to rip off “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
At certain parts of the movie, “Moonfall” co-stars Berry and Wilson look like they’re trying their best to convincingly deliver some of the moronic dialogue that they have to spout, but it’s a hopeless effort. Bradley’s K.C. character is relentlessly annoying. Donald Sutherland has a cameo as a scientist named Holdenfield, who does what a Donald Sutherland cameo character usually does in a movie: He briefly shows up to act like he knows more than anyone else in the room.
Peña, who’s usually typecast as a wisecracking character, is given some lackluster and awkwardly placed “jokes” in this movie’s failed comic relief. Worst of all, “Moonfall” takes itself way too seriously to be considered a campy bad movie. You’re more likely to be grimacing than laughing if you end up watching “Moonfall,” a horrible misfire that crashes and burns in more ways than one.
Lionsgate will release “Moonfall” in U.S. cinemas on February 4, 2022.