Outer space has been the setting for some recent compelling films, particularly "Gravity" with Sandra Bullock and "The Martian" starring Matt Damon.
Brad Pitt is the latest Hollywood star to don a spacesuit, this time for "Ad Astra," which is Latin for "to the stars."
On paper, it seems like a good idea. Pitt plays Maj. Roy McBride, an astronaut whose legendary spaceman father (played by Tommy Lee Jones) embarked 30 years earlier on a deep space exploration mission and hasn't been heard from for 16 years. The world thinks he's dead, but then a violent series of radioactive bursts start hitting the earth, causing widespread destruction.
Turns out that dad's actions near the planet Neptune are directly related to these new troubles, and the son is sent on a mission to stop him -- and maybe resolve some long-simmering daddy issues he's been harboring for years.
Pitt gives a good performance as a highly professional astronaut who calmly handles all kinds of extreme situations, from being attacked on the moon by space pirates to stepping in when the pilot of his spacecraft freezes up.
Director and co-writer James Gray ("The Lost City of Z" and "We Own the Night") has included some visually enticing scenes that seem inspired by the classic "2001: A Space Odyssey." In that movie, astronauts traveled to the moon on a Pan Am spaceship. In "Ad Astra," it's a vessel operated by Virgin Atlantic.
Other scenes look like duplications from the aforementioned "Gravity" and "The Martian." Those films had regular moments of high drama that drew audiences in. Unfortunately, "Ad Astra" gets bogged down with constant voice-overs from Pitt talking about his character's feelings.
That slowed-down pace isn't helped by a potentially strong supporting cast that's underutilized. Liv Tyler plays Pitt's love interest, who appears only in a few minutes of flashback sequences. Veteran actor Donald Sutherland makes a strong appearance as an astronaut colleague of Pitt's dad, but his character exits early in the film.
Probably the biggest disappointment is Tommy Lee Jones, who also has very little screen time for such an important character. Jones could also be accused of trying to channel Marlon Brando's crazed military commander from "Apocalypse Now."
"Ad Astra" winds up being a disappointing film. It borrows too much from other movies and injects thoughts and feelings that seem more suited to a therapy session. The result is a slow-moving, unsatisfying experience.