Think of it as a space-age “Field of Dreams,” this family-friendly fable about a rugged individualist whos willing to take risks to achieve his dream.
Aerospace engineer Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) was once one of NASAs 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 fathers ranch in Texas. Ever since then, hes wanted a second chance to travel in space.
So Farmers 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). Farmers 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, Farmers determination is unswerving, despite several enormous setbacks.
“Somewhere along the line, we stopped believing we could do anything,” he says. “And if we dont 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 Thorntons 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!