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SYFY WIRE Apollo 11

Moonwalkers: When Ron Perlman & Rupert Grint Got Blasted on Space’s Craziest Conspiracy Theory

Can’t get Stanley Kubrick on speed dial to fake your Moon landing? No worries — just round up some artistic hippies!

By Benjamin Bullard
Kidman holds up a lit lighter in Moonwalkers (2015).

Surely you’re not one of those people who believes the whole Moon landing story is just an elaborate hoax — right? Maybe you think the government faked the historic success of the Apollo 11 mission through a devious scheme of special effects and secret Hollywood handshakes… or maybe, um, you don’t think that, like, at all.

Either way, it’s easy to get caught up in Moonwalkers (streaming here on Peacock!) and its silly, slapstick take on how high-level conspiracy theories — if you believe in such things — can go totally haywire in their actual execution. The 2015 feature film debut for director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet (better know for helming high-end commercials and music vids), it’s a surreal, silly, and unabashedly bloody romp through a drugged-up fever-dream version of how the U.S. might’ve pulled off a Moon landing conspiracy... in some parallel comedic universe, of course.

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If NASA conspiracy theories were true, we’d want them to look like Moonwalkers

Well, let’s put a big asterisk on that. This movie isn’t at all concerned with the relative merits of real conspiracy theories; it’s simply here to have fun with the idea that, if this particular conspiracy theory were actually true, it might’ve played out the way things do in Moonwalkers. This film has its own conspiratorial fun with the infectiously goofy enthusiasm that true believers often exude — even if it’s not at all interested in weighing in on the truth of the thing itself. Moonwalkers is daft and bizarre on purpose, hilariously handling its space-age subject matter by clocking its farcical action to the hallucinogenic logic of, say, an absurdist Thomas Pynchon tale like Inherent Vice.

A bizarre (and definitely R-rated) comedy that gets a big boost from its science-fiction subtext, Moonwalkers is set in the heady days just before the 1969 Moon mission milestone that forever changed the narrative of the then-burgeoning space race. It stars Harry Potter royalty Rupert Grint as a hapless British band promoter just trying to street-hustle his way to rock-’n’-roll success, alongside Hellboy badass Ron Perlman as a gruff, war-scarred CIA operative named Tom Kidman — a guy whose government handlers decide to saddle him with an impossibly audacious task.

Jonny and Leon look down in awe at an open briefcase in Moonwalkers (2015).

What kind of task is that, you ask? Why, it couldn’t be simpler: All Kidman has to do is fly to England with a sackful of money, track down Stanley Kubrick’s agent, and persuade them both (with that case full of cash) to deploy some of the same VFX magic he used on 2001: A Space Odyssey to film fake video “footage” of NASA astronauts be-bopping around on the staged lunar surface, American flag and all. In this movie’s reality, the Apollo 11 mission actually is a real thing, but the government just doesn’t want to take any chances with the mission’s globally-broadcast coverage. If something does go wrong and the lander doesn’t touch down, Kubrick’s video is supposed to serve as the faked-footage stand-in, assuring the world that America’s whole scientific enterprise comes off as a smashing success.

How does a low-level British band promoter cross paths with a CIA agent, though? By being in the right place at the wrong time, of course. After being mistaken for Kubrick’s agent, Jonny (Grint) finds himself drowning in the deep end of the deep state’s deep, deep pool of conspiracies and cover-ups. CIA agent Kidman absolutely expects him to produce a nice pastiche of plausibly believable Moon-landing footage, an implacable expectation that doesn’t change one whit even after Kidman learns that Jonny and Kubrick are light years from even being acquainted.   

Riffing on the idea that a straight-laced American like Kidman would naturally find everything he encounters in England to be more or less the same degree of weird, Moonwalkers gets a lot of its comedic mileage from putting all its characters in fish-out-of-water situations. On the British side of things, the movie’s motley cast is jam-packed with actors who persuasively play genuine idiots, burnouts, and fools… and Perlman does an equally convincing job of playing a guy who absolutely, positively has no headspace for suffering fools. As you can probably guess, there’s oodles of potential for the two types to mutually torment each other, and in Moonwalkers, they definitely do.

The movie’s gonzo premise really gets going after Jonny tracks down his stoner roommate (played by The Umbrella Academy’s Robert Sheehan) and prods him to impersonate Kubrick just long enough to walk away with Kidman’s cash. It’s a ruse that of course goes haywire almost as soon as it’s been hatched, and it ushers in the movie’s second act — a rushed, no-time-to-spare plan-B production of a phony Moon landing that most certainly doesn’t involve Kubrick… and that definitely isn’t what the CIA flew Kidman all the way to England to capture.

Kidman and Jonny sits together in Moonwalkers (2015).

Jonny’s world is filled with an across-the-pond version of the same sort of post-hippie oddballs (and even some of the same homage-like situations) you’d expect to find in Inherent Vice — though no one’s likely to mistake Grint’s frantic bystander of a character (who supplies the movie’s sketchy emotional backbone) for a preternaturally wise observer like Doc Sportello. But the kind of druggies, deadbeats, musicians, and failure-to-launch artists who do surround Jonny make for some awesome comedic contrasts, as Perlman’s grizzled CIA spook wades his way through an ad hoc Moon landing production that's staffed by such creative talent as he’s desperately able to find.

Most of Moonwalkers' action is cartoonish and gratuitously gory, but as it turns out, it's all headed somewhere. Toward the end of the movie, there’s an inspired pastiche of scenes where people from around the world are captivated by the live, grainy black-and-white footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin traipsing around on the surface of the Moon. Still stranded in Europe only hours after submitting their hastily-finished video production, Jonny and Kidman find a TV and get caught up in the moment’s historic reverie, just like everyone else.

Can they tell if what they’re watching is the footage they themselves created? Or are they actually looking at the stupendously real thing? Moonwalkers makes the smart call and chooses to leave that mystery hanging. After all, considering what these guys have just put themselves through, either scenario must seem like an equally mind-blowing possibility.

Catch Moonwalkers streaming on Peacock here.