The American Astronaut ★★★½

If Aki Kaurismaki had made "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" you'd have got something like The American Astronaut.

Writer/actor/director/musician Cory McAbee's ultra-low-budget indie The American Astronaut is something that almost defies description. Shot in black-and-white, it hearkens back to the science fiction of the 1900s and its description of the universe as consisting of a series of 'themed' worlds. Venus is inhabited solely by Southern Belles; Saturn by lonely miners; and there's a bar with an all-male dancing contest in the asteroid belt. Space cowboy Samuel Curtis wends his way through this dreamlike universe with a blase charm, like Han Solo if he'd suggested to Greedo that they don't fight, but instead go bass fishing. Pursued by a deranged Pee-Wee Herman-esque mad scientist (played by noted character actor and HBO regular Rocco Sisto), he has to take The Boy Who Once Saw A Woman's Breast and exchange him for a corpse, which he can then take back to Earth, along with the stinking hydraulic gimp that he picks up along the way.

If this all sounds confusing, that's because you're over-thinking it. McAbee's fourth movie and his full-length debut is a collection of oddball moments and weird incidents, told with a certain sweetness of tone. Early David Lynch is a good sign post, but then so are the Quay brothers. Yet neither has McAbee's well-intentioned sense of humor. There are no overt jokes, but somehow he catches that mood of security that pervades the oddest of dreams. No matter how bizarre, it never becomes terrifying. This is, of course, helped by the occasional song and dance number, with music provided by the director's day job in his band The Billy Nayer Show.

It is undeniable his unique and perverse cinematic vision but most importantly, his vision allows him to make a true creative virtue of his low-to-zero budget. Primitive space cowboys who managed to launch their barn into the solar void use tin cans as oxygen filters: space travel is represented through flash cards: and bizarre alien cultures are summed up by raiding the prop cupboard of the local amateur dramatics society. In less talented hands, this would be abortive. Yet McAbee thinks around all the problems out of which so many other directors just buy themselves.

Shout-out to PTABro for recommending and making me aware of this little gem and the great talent that is Cory McAbee. Thanks, Bro.

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