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I have a theory: any movie that has the same title as a song is bound to be bad.

It suggests a lack of imagination and a capitulation to pure, cowardly marketing. As if the studio announced from the start that there are no original ideas to be found in this film, only comforting familiarity. We could play that game all day, but I’m confident that this idea will hold water.

And please don’t get me started on “Pretty Woman.”

I digress. Fly Me to the Moon lacks imagination and offers nothing but comforting familiarity. That’s a shame, because the story introduces fascinating ideas. Not to mention that the two leads – Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson – are always fun, even when the material doesn’t do them justice. In the end, the story is determined to drown everything in cliches and conventions.

The story: It’s the 1960s and the space race has begun. The film touches on Sputnik and the Apollo 1 tragedy to make sure the audience knows what’s at stake. Hearing this reminded me of the same material covered in better films like The Stuff Heroes Are Made Of and Apollo 13. Then again, those films are very old, so maybe enough people in the audience need a refresher. Regardless, the United States’ place in the free world is in question and the pressure is mounting.

No one feels that pressure more than Cole Davis (Tatum), who runs the Apollo 10 mission control room. He’s tense, rigid, and motivated by personal weaknesses that we learn more about in the film’s third act. He also wears tight sweaters that are meant to show off his muscles. But I kept noticing the outline of his undershirt, and it makes Tatum look more silly than muscular.

As Cole points out, the public is losing interest. Too much money for something that seemed superfluous given the turmoil of the times. So much so that a secret agent of the Nixon White House – was there another one? – played by Woody Harrelson, recruits Fifth Avenue marketing wizard Kelly Jones (Johansson) to design a campaign to win Americans back.

Kelly is more of a type than a character, the creation of a screenwriter who watched too many episodes of Mad Men. She speaks in proclamations. Her actions are stunts designed to get attention. Even Johansson struggles to humanize her.

When Cole and Kelly meet, it happens outside of work. Despite the awkward nature of the interaction, Cole feels compelled to blurt out his attraction to Kelly. This is called a meet cute, a scene that is meant to be funny or charming while also setting up a romantic plot.

Like many Meet Cutes movies, there’s a subsequent revelation that changes the dynamic in a heartbeat. When they find out they’re working together, Cole resents the idea of ​​watering down the space program through product placement. Kelly is frustrated by Cole’s recalcitrance. This repeats itself two or three times in the movie. They argue, overcome their differences, and move toward romance. Until the plot creates intrigue that makes them angry at each other once again.

While I find the idea of ​​how public relations has influenced our space exploration interesting, Fly Me to the Moon is more interested in the hackneyed “will they or won’t they” spiel of the two main characters as they fall in and out of love.

Predictable, but harmless. Worse is the climax when Nixon henchman Kelly orders a replica of the moon landing to be built as a backup in case of failure. I won’t give anything away that wasn’t already revealed in the trailer. Too much cynicism for this publicity woman who has to make sure that history is properly documented.

Now the film’s structure is reduced to the drama of making sure certain transmitting devices are placed on the spaceship. This is disappointing, to say the least.

Not to mention, this ending forces Johansson into the role of the antagonist who needs to learn a lesson. Why the film makes her a villain makes no sense, since she was a quick-witted career woman up until this point.

Not to mention that the moon landing itself reminded me of a better version from just six years ago, First Man. In this criminally underrated Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling, the moon expedition was moving and dramatic, providing an emotional catharsis for the character. It was better on the big screen, but I’d advise you to watch it.

There’s a sort of funny denouement in this film involving a black cat that keeps appearing, but that’s all there is to this depiction of a historical moment. It seems superficial, another obstacle for the two main characters to overcome just to see how much they like each other, for God’s sake!

I wanted to love Johansson and Tatum. I hoped their charm would transcend the conventions of the story. I also wanted to enjoy the exploration of the dynamics of how perception affects monumental moments; how our society has become so jaded that it needs to be sold on the importance of human achievement.

Instead, “Fly Me to the Moon” sings a familiar melody at the end.

James Owen is the Tribune’s film columnist. In real life, he is a lawyer and executive director of the energy policy group Renew Missouri. A graduate of Drury University and the University of Kansas, he founded, where he co-hosts a podcast. He was a longtime on-air film critic on KY3, the NBC affiliate in Springfield, and is now a regular guest on Columbia radio station KFRU.