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'Astronaut Farmer' lacks the right stuff

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Some movies are so flagrantly awful that they achieve classic status. To this rarefied company we must now add "The Astronaut Farmer," a nut brain fable that is all the more perversely enjoyable for being seriously intended.

Billy Bob Thornton is Charles Farmer, an aerospace engineer who dropped out of NASA's astronaut training program to return home and care for his sick father. Farmer is actually more of a rancher than a farmer, but mostly he's a loafer. Or at least that's how he comes across until we discover that, in his spare time apparently, he has built his own fully equipped rocket in a barn on his ranch in Story, Texas. (Located near Capra Valley, no doubt.)

Charles is one of those guys who has a dream and won't let anybody forget it, least of all his pathologically understanding wife, Audie (Virginia Madsen), his two cutesy-poo daughters, Sunshine and Stanley, and his 15-year-old homespun genius son Shepard (Max Thieriot).

Shepard, by the way, is named for Alan Shepard. Stanley is named for Stanley Kubrick. Is it possible that the identical-twin writing-directing team of Michael and Mark Polish are unaware that Kubrick had a monumental fear of flying?

Although the ranch is in foreclosure because of that pesky rocket money drain, Charles and his family remain starry-eyed at the prospect of him blasting off into the ozone. He takes the kids out of school to help him sweat the small stuff – like procuring 10,000 pounds of high-grade fuel. This little gambit raises a red flag with the FBI, CIA, and FAA, all of whom are portrayed as cartoon meanies standing in the way of Charles's realizing his dream. The fact that Charles would be igniting what amounts to a great big bomb in a populated community never registers with him. "Maybe I'm crazy," he says, "but I still believe that if we don't have our dreams we're nothing." Maybe he's crazy?

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