Producers: Greg Berlanti, Sara Schechter, Jill McElroy and Jenna Sarkin Director: Chris Winterbauer Screenplay: Max Taxe Cast: Cole Sprouse, Lana Condor, Zach Braff, Mason Gooding, Emily Rudd, Lukas Gage, Michelle Buteau, Christine Adams and Cameron Esposito Distributor: HBO Max
This outer-space romantic comedy from the production factory of prolific Greg Berlanti is a cutesy tale in the mold of a futuristic “It Happened One Night.” Unfortunately “Moonshot” never achieves liftoff: the charm the cast tries desperately to bring to Max Taxe’s workmanlike script proves elusive, especially because Chris Winterbauer’s direction lacks fizz.
Cole Sprouse plays Walt, a college student and barista who dreams of escaping his humdrum life by winning a free spot on the flights to Mars sponsored by eccentric billionaire Leon Kovi (Zach Braff). His application has been rejected thirty-seven times, but his determination is renewed when he attends a party where he meets two girls—Sophie (Lana Condor), whose boyfriend Calvin (Mason Gooding) is already resident on Mars through Kovi’s program, and Ginny (Emily Rudd), with whom he instantly falls in love before learning that she’s leaving for the Red Planet the next morning. She departs after they share a heartfelt talk.
Sophie, whom Walt irritated in their initial encounter, later comes to Walt’s coffee shop in a despairing state because Calvin has decided to extend his stay on Mars. Walt suggests that since she has the funds, she should simply buy a tourist ticket on the shuttle and go to live with him there. She’s convinced, but he then suggests she help him get onto the craft as a stowaway. She reluctantly agrees, but once aboard they find that they must continue the pretense of being a couple. So he assumes Calvin’s identity—a problem, since he knows nothing about the guy’s specialization in terraforming and has to lecture on the subject.
You know where this is headed—and it isn’t just to Mars. Walt and Sophie grow close in a series of misadventures, close shaves and occasional blissful encounters with the beauties of the cosmos, and Sophie begins to wonder about Calvin’s inclination to put his work above all else.
You also know the inevitable outcome, though there are, necessarily, blips along the way. Walt is arrested and brought before Kovi, who reveals that surveillance footage has made him into a PR star on social media and offers him a permanent gig on Mars. Meanwhile Sophie has reached a decision about her own future. It seems that they might be separated permanently by light years until…well, until a space-age equivalent of that running-for-the-train-station-or-airport sequence that’s standard issue in the romcom genre.
The characters in “Moonshot”—except for Kovi, whom Braff plays as an arrogant, supercilious control freak—are pretty nice people. Even those who don’t act quite the way Walt and Sophie would like aren’t cruel or vindictive; to the contrary, they’re unusually helpful. (Ginny might have found a new boyfriend, but she helps Walt out of a tough spot, and Christine Adams, as Calvin’s mother, takes the breakup of her son’s engagement with amazing equanimity.) A few fellow travelers, like Michelle Buteau as the ship captain and Cameron Esposito as a passenger who finds romance unexpectedly, add some welcome spice to the mix, but most are fairly bland, and are played that way. The same, unhappily, is true of Condor, whose mousiness as Sophie means that Sprouse has to carry the picture largely his own, and though he’s pleasant enough, his exuberance can, paradoxically, get tiresome.
Apart from a few pastel-pretty illustrations of celestial phenomena observed with wonderment by Walt and Sophie, the look of the picture is as nondescript as the dialogue and characters. Eddie Matazzoni’s production design, Brandon Uegama’s cinematography and Stephani Lewis’ costumes are all of cable-TV quality, and Harry Jiergian’s editing is as lackluster as Winterbauer’s direction. David Boman’s score leaves little impression.
Innocuous but instantly forgettable, “Moonshot” fails to add much to the romcom template besides the outer-space setting.