Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Astronaut's Wife

By Marc Savlov

SEPTEMBER 7, 1999: 

D: Rand Ravich; with Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Joe Morton, Clea DuVall, Samantha Eggar, Donna Murphy. (R, 110 min.)

You have to wonder if the appearance here of Samantha Eggar is a coincidence. In David Cronenberg's 1979 film The Brood, she tackled a similar motif, that of the genre-specific pregnancy from hell, and did it to much better effect. Of course, Cronenberg, ever the gooey prankster, had her devouring her own afterbirth in a veritable orgy of bad taste. Nothing that sticky happens in Ravich's film, and it's our loss (though I suspect whether you view this as a loss will depend entirely on your neonatal viewpoints). Ravich, who penned the second Candyman film, also starring Joe Morton (who coincidentally starred in John Sayles' The Brother From Another Planet), makes his feature debut here, and despite many, many lifts from previous films of this ilk (Demon Seed, Rosemary's Baby), the finished product is as predictably dull as a newborn's soft spot. Alas, dropping The Astronaut's Wife on its proverbial head may have incited some sort of interesting developments, but clearly Ravich and company handled this one with kid gloves. More's the pity. When NASA shuttle pilot Spencer Amacost (Depp) returns to earth after a mysterious explosion in low-earth orbit, he comes back a changed man. Sure, all his limbs and vitals appear to be in working order, but his wife Jillian (Theron) knows something's not right. What that is remains maddeningly vague throughout the film, with statements that make little or no sense whatsoever about radio-wave-borne alien intelligences that are star-hopping their way across the galaxies to invade planet Earth. Depp never changes into a monster or anything more sinister than what we must presume Depp on a hotel-blasting bender might act like, but Theron is nonplused nevertheless. While renegade NASA scientist Joe Morton ("They all think I'm crazy!" he whines) tries desperately to warn the wife of the dangers of sleeping with Martians, the film circles around a number of black plot holes, eventually succumbing out of sheer tedium. For a psychological thriller, The Astronaut's Wife is remarkably neither. Depp has his trademark intensity throttled all the way up here, but it's for naught. Theron, for her part, looks like a Polanski-era Mia Farrow, exhibiting all of the coif and none of the charm. She's cute, sure, but she was far more alive battling Al Pacino's Lucifer in Devil's Advocate two years ago. The cinematography by Spielberg crony Allen Daviau (E.T., Empire of the Sun) is equally cool here, full of muted chiaroscuro and quiet blues and grays. It's enough to put you to sleep at times. Muted and toothless, this is one bad baby film better off stillborn.

1.5 Stars

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