`Astronaut's Wife' Crashes as Supernatural Thriller

By Arnold, Gary | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

`Astronaut's Wife' Crashes as Supernatural Thriller


Arnold, Gary, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"The Astronaut's Wife" sounds like a title that eluded Lily Tomlin 20 years ago. Though strictly classifiable as a science fiction or supernatural thriller rather than a comedy, it proves as weirdly unappealing as the similarly titled "The Slugger's Wife," an actual dud of 1985.

Maybe there's something unlucky about the possessive case.

The uncherished "Slugger" is the answer to a trivia question: "What was the worst movie ever written by Neil Simon?" In a similar respect, Johnny Depp and Charlize Theron, the unwary co-stars of "Astronaut," may now have the defining low points of their careers.

Seldom have such photogenic leads been squandered in such an unflattering fashion. The film's distributor, New Line, felt embarrassed enough to skip press screenings, a form of self-criticism last practiced by Warner Bros. when compelled to release "The Avengers" last summer.

The awful truth is that "Astronaut" may be more exploitable at the moment than it deserves to be. "The Blair Witch Project" and "The Sixth Sense" have inadvertently combined to make spookiness all the rage again.

The movie audience teems with folks who want to see dreadful things happen. Their only legitimate complaint in this case may be a lighting scheme so dark that they'll suspect ghoulish creatures are being unfairly concealed in the murk.

An affected abstractionist, the novice writer-director Rand Ravich favors compositions in which glare and amber hues alternate with glare and icy blue or gray hues.

When feeling more punitive than usual, he resorts to faintly illuminated silhouettes against inky darkness. The ostensible location during most of the film, New York City, is rarely depicted in a naturalistic or disarming way.

It might as well be called Really, Really Dark City.

Mr. Ravich revives evil-minded devices from "Rosemary's Baby" to camouflage a menace that ultimately owes more to "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Mr. Depp, an astronaut called Spencer Armacost, encounters something inexplicable and loses consciousness for two minutes while doing extravehicular repair work during a mission.

Miss Theron, his wife, Jillian, who is a second-grade teacher, can take scant comfort in his apparent recovery.

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