Not every sci-fi movie has the budget of a Star Wars film, so sometimes you need to adjust your expectations before pushing the Play button. And when you head over to the indie sci-fi section, well, it’s going to be hit or miss. Like the just-released film “Astro”.
Here’s the story: When billionaire Alexander Biggs (Marshal Hilton) uses his personal spaceship to bring an extraterrestrial back to Earth for research purposes, things don’t quite go as planned. But there’s something about Biggs and his backstory that’s odd anyway, as US Army tough guy turned gentleman rancher Jack Adams (Gary Daniels) finds out when Biggs tries to recruit him to join Biggs Aerospace.
Meanwhile, in another storyline, so-called “Subject A” (Luke Gregory Crosby) might or might not have some latent psionic abilities, while creepy scientists Vivian (Max Wasa) and her sidekick Viktor (Louis Mandylor) continue to pop up to advise Biggs about all the amazing tech that his aerospace company is preparing for public release. And our hero, Jack Adams? His life is all about his teen daughter Laura Lee Adams (Courtney Akbar), who is highly impressed by billionaire Biggs but ultimately decides she doesn’t really want Daddy to go work for the evil man. One reason: Biggs has a creepy loser of a son, Charlie (Orson Chaplin) who is definitely not someone you’d want in the same room as your teenage daughter.
Or maybe the film “Astro” is about something entirely different. Directed by Asif Akbar in a manner that suggests it’s his freshman outing both behind the lens and in the editing booth (though it’s not; He’s done some TV movies, a documentary and a couple of shorts, according to IMDb), this is a pretty incoherent mess that can’t figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. The poster is gorgeous (though highly, highly reminiscent of the ‘400 Days’ movie poster and, to a slightly lesser point, ‘Moon’) but the special effects are laughably bad, particularly the terrible, your-kid-could-do-better spaceship visuals. The billionaire’s fancy house looks like it would cost about $100 on the open market (tip: exteriors and sets do count in filmmaking), and the acting is what you’d expect from film school students, not professional actors.
Worse, the storyline in “Astro” is just about impossible to follow. The film’s description says that Biggs is investigating other worlds, but that’s not actually mentioned in the movie; Subject A just… shows up. Creepy Vivian seems to be costumed with leftover dresses from ‘Elvira: Mistress of the Dark,’ and even the soundtrack is baffling! At certain points there’s a lovely guitar instrumental when we go to the Adams ranch, but the style and rhythm of that music is completely unlike anything else in the movie. Different melodies for different characters, yes, but not entirely different genres of music.
I can understand what Akbar and his production team were trying to accomplish, but the script seems like it might have just been a (very) rough draft, not one ready for production. To be fair, there were some really cool sets, particularly the evil Biggs Aerospace top secret research facility, but others, like Biggs “billionaire acres” home, was just terrible. If you can’t get to a suitable set then at least explain it. So Biggs could have said “I give all my money to charitable causes so I still live in the house I grew up in.” rather than having other characters (e.g., the perpetually vapid Laura Lee) marvel at how gorgeous it is while us viewers are snickering at the shot.
Even really huge sci-fi films can fall flat on their face with a poorly considered storyline, even as the special effects and acting are splendid (for example, ‘Passengers’), so it’s not a horrible thing to have a film crash and burn. But oh, if you have the chance to see ‘Astro,’ do yourself a favor and just skip it. Or just flip to Netflix and find a new series to binge watch, like the Japanese gem ‘Erased.’