“The Astronaut Farmer,” reviewed by Susan Granger

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Think of it as a space-age “Field of Dreams,” this family-friendly fable about a rugged individualist who’s willing to take risks to achieve his dream.

Aerospace engineer Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) was once one of NASA’s astronauts-in-training but, before he got a chance to go into orbit, there was a family tragedy and he was called home to take over his father’s ranch in Texas. Ever since then, he’s wanted a second chance to travel in space.

So Farmer’s building a rocket in his barn with the help of his tech-savvy 15 year-old son Shepard (Max Thierlot) and the support of a loving wife (Virginia Madsen), two devoted daughters (Jasper and Logan Polish) and a grizzled father-in-law (Bruce Dern). Farmer’s neighbors are skeptical, often ridiculing him behind his back, and the bank is threatening foreclosure on his ranch. Yet when he purchases 10,000 pounds of premium-grade fuel over the Internet, the FAA, FBI, NASA and Department of Homeland Security suddenly take notice. Bureaucrats descend and a space-shuttle buddy (Bruce Willis) is dispatched to try to talk him out of attempting this solo space flight. Yet underneath his gentle, easygoing nature, Farmer’s determination is unswerving, despite several enormous setbacks.

“Somewhere along the line, we stopped believing we could do anything,” he says. “And if we don’t have our dreams, we have nothing.”

Twin writer/directors Michael and Mark Polish (“Twin Falls Idaho,” “Northfork”) exude Capra-esque imagination, allowing an affectionate sense of wholesome wonder and hope to overcome the underlying predictability and clichés, while Thornton’s surprisingly graceful dignity allows the audience to suspend disbelief, albeit momentarily. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Astronaut Farmer” lifts off with an unabashedly sentimental, inspirational 8. Talk about having The Right Stuff!

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.