Moonshot never takes off, any potential low-key rom-com pleasures undercut by a flattened sense of conflict and by-the-numbers plotting.
Once a reliable Hollywood staple, the romantic comedy no longer commands the pop-cultural preeminence of its heyday. Blame craven executives, blame entertainment economics, blame finicky audiences — the jury’s still out on just why exactly they don’t make rom-coms like they used to. Things change, tastes evolve. At the present, it seems we’re in a bit of a renaissance, with 2022 entries like Marry Me and I Want You Back capturing mostly praise from critics and audiences. Amidst this new-age revitalization of the rom-com comes Moonshot, a new aspirant to the canon. The title is sadly a misnomer, however, as, for one, the movie has nothing to do with the moon, and, more importantly, is nowhere as ambitious or innovative as its title would suggest.
Cole Sprouse and Lana Condor star as two bright-eyed twentysomethings kicking it on Earth year 2049, a Disney-esque techno-playground with hints of hyper-capitalistic dystopia. Protagonist Walt (Sprouse) is a hapless barista in this future’s Starbucks equivalent, being a dope and dreaming of traversing the cosmos to see Mars. At a party, he meets a pretty blonde, prattles with her until the sun rises, kisses her as the music swells on cue, then continues to obsess over her for weeks after she’s departed Earth on a glitzy shuttle heading to the planet of his dreams. Condor’s Sophie (who honestly should have been the protagonist) is a serious-minded academic superstar whose dreamy, long-distance boyfriend overdetermines her life. Sophie encounters Walt a couple times, the second of which ends with her boozily deciding to follow her beloved to, you guessed it, Mars. Ever the desperate romantic, Walt ensnares Sophie in his plot to illegally board the next Mars shuttle. Sophie, now harboring a fugitive, reluctantly agrees to help Walt stay hidden as they journey through the stars for the next month.
Now, what should follow is something to the effect of “then sparks fly and hilarity ensues.” Disappointingly, this rom-com doesn’t do too well in either the rom or com departments. The arc of Walt and Sophie’s dynamic is easy to spot: extended time in close proximity will cause these opposites to attract and perhaps reconsider whether their current love objects are truly the right ones for them. It’s because the essential cliché is so apparent that things feel so belabored as the narrative progresses, and it doesn’t help matters that Walt’s characterization — derpy, motor-mouthed, vacillating between incredulous and befuddled — often renders him so irritating and unengaging that it’s hard to fathom why anybody would ever fall for him. To quote Sophie, “Sometimes you’re so dumb and it makes me so angry.” And the answers offered are simply a) it’s a rom-com, what did you expect, and b) Walt has Cole Sprouse’s looks. Most of the jokes range from hackneyed to mildly entertaining in a turn-your-brain-off sort of way, with the best lines saved for Gary, Walt’s AI coffeeshop supervisor, and the ambiguously evil billionaire Leon Kovi (a delightfully lowkey Zach Braff).
For a film that announces its themes of exploration and cultivating the courage to do things differently as unsubtly as this one, it’s a shame that its strict adherence to formula inhibits it from ever feeling original. It’s a whole lot of medium shots and close-ups, shot-reverse-shot toggling between the leads, mid-sized, small, and tight interiors that make the $4 billion spacecraft feel like the hub world of a mobile game. The soundtrack largely favors either generic licensed music to fast-track a teen drama vibe or rousing symphonic melodies for whenever a character does something romantic or says something thematically poignant. And things get tremendously sluggish come the second act. Considering the stakes that the inciting events set up, there’s a complete absence of tension as the duo mess around and the days fly by in a montage. This stretch amounts to a clip show of discrete character moments that inevitably move the romantic needle according to plan. The turning point arrives less than thirty minutes from the film’s end, so strap in for a rushed third act that flattens the romantic conflict into its most by-the-numbers iteration and concludes with no earned sense of payoff (not to mention a huge plot hole).
If nothing else, all the actors involved are having — or are doing a solid job of convincing the camera that they’re having — a good time. Neither Condor nor Sprouse shine per se, but that has much to do with the considerable limits baked into their characters. Most of the supporting roles are dutifully fulfilled, though none of these background characters achieve much other than to remind the viewer that there are other human characters written into this story. With a bolder vision, Moonshot could’ve taken off. As is, nothing elevates this flick beyond mere stream-it-while-you-fold-laundry territory.