In the previous post I mentioned a certain forehead-slapper in James Gray‘s Ad Astra (Fox/Disney, 9.20). But it’s not the only one. There are actually three. The first, which has been spoiled all over the place, is a Mad Max-like dune-buggy car chase on the moon. Then comes the curious biological presence thing. Then comes another lunar moment in which Brad Pitt attempts to surreptitiously board a Mars-bound space vehicle…all right, forget it.

There’s a lot to “admire” in Ad Astra. I didn’t believe a frame of it, but I approved (and still do approve) of the adult-friendly attitude. I appreciated the effort that Gray made in this regard.

Okay, portions were made for the intellectually stunted or disengaged, but otherwise it’s a reasonably tidy, pro-level, not excessively long (124 minutes) space drama with some very cool VFX. All through it I was feeling a certain amount of respect mixed with a certain indifference. It didn’t turn me on but it’s not a flagrant burn.

Ad Astra is basically about how an emotionally brusque, middle-aged astronaut (Brad Pitt) travels all the way to Neptune to find his presumed-dead-but-actually-alive astronaut dad (Tommy Lee Jones) way the hell out at the edge of the solar system. And thereafter settle or solve some important matters.

Dad has been missing or at least out of contact for 30 years, and, we eventually discover, is living aboard a massive Neptune-orbiting space craft. The voyage he launched three decades earlier was called the Lima Project (pronounced like the city in Peru, not the bean). Pitt’s primary goal is to somehow stop the generating of destructive energy surges (or pulses) that have been causing terrible havoc and killing thousands on earth. I didn’t get the science of it and didn’t really care, to be honest, but the surges have originated from Neptune so maybe Jones is somehow culpable.

Pitt to TLJ: “C’mon, dad, cut the shit. You’re hurting people and really fucking things up.”

By the conclusion Brad seems to have partially resolved some paternal issues he’s been carrying around for decades. Stuff like “okay, you tutored me in math and we watched black-and-white movies together, but otherwise why were you such an aloof workaholic prick, dad, and why did you abandon our family? Why didn’t we take more walks, have more catches on the front lawn, watch more football games, go on camping trips?”

My basic thought as I left the theatre last week was “not a bad film…annoying and stupid, yes, but not fatally so…and certainly satisfying from a VFX standpoint. But my God, what an awful long way to go (not to mention the spending of untold billions if not trillions) just to allow a guy to come to terms with his complex feelings about his father and perhaps achieve some kind of closure.”

This in turn would allow Brad to henceforth build a warmer, more trusting relationship with his wife, Eve, once he returns to earth. Eve is represented more than “played” by Liv Tyler, as she doesn’t say a word. Or not as I recall.

It took Voyager 2 about 12 years to reach Neptune (launched on 8.20.77, arrived in Neptune orbit on 8.24.89). The return trip to earth would presumably take another 12 years, for a grand total of 24 or 25. And so Pitt, who’s supposed to be in his mid 40s as the film begins, would be pushing 70. He’d be Rip Van Winkle with a white beard. But in the movie he’s not noticably older when he returns. The only difference is that he now has a moderate-length beard, but it’s not gray or white. (It might be salt and pepper-ish.)

Tyler would be much older also, but Ad Astra doesn’t care about her or their marriage or anything else of a personal, living-on-planet-earth nature.

Let’s imagine that Pitt’s journey, which involves a moon stopover followed by a Mars visit, moves faster than Voyager 2. Let’s say he travels almost twice as fast, and is therefore able to do the job and return to earth within, say, 12 or 14 years. Make it 15. Pitt would still be pushing 60 when he gets back. But again, he doesn’t look like that either. So Ad Astra is basically biological bullshit.

Why tell this dumb story (which was cowritten by Gray and Ethan Gross) if you’re going to refuse to play by the rules of human biology? This isn’t Star Wars. There’s no leaping into light speed with Han and Chewy at the controls. If Gray and Gross had dreamt up some bullshit explanation for Pitt’s ability to somehow escape the ravages of time I would have probably bought into it. All they had to was make an effort.

Ad Astra may perform half-decently this weekend, partly or mostly because of Pitt, but soon after it will die a quick and decisive death.

I’m not saying the ADD crowd is going to avoid this film like the plague, but it’s clearly aimed at 35-and-olders. Production costs alone were apparently north of $100 million, not to mention marketing costs. Deadline‘s Anthony D’Alessandro is projecting a tally “in the mid-to-high-teen millions.”