Strange Cinema: The American Astronaut (2001)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

The American Astronaut (2001)
Director: Cory McAbee
Starring: Cory McAbee, Rocco Sisto, Greg Russell Cook, James Ransone, & Annie Golden

What’s it about?
Space cowboy Samuel Curtis is on a mission to provide the women of Venus with a new king for mating, but his old nemesis, Professor Hess, is hot on his trail.

Is it any good?
I was incredibly surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. The production quality isn’t the best–the entire film was shot on a 35mm black and white camera–but that’s what gives The American Astronaut its unique charm. It’s set in space, but there’s no CGI or miniatures. Instead, director Cory McAbee decided to use painted sets and special effects. All the props and sets came from thrift stores, and the music came from McAbee’s own band, The Billy Nayer Show. So basically, this film got rid of the high-tech bullshit to create a genuinely unique premise.

The plot is fairly convoluted the first time you watch it, but after a second viewing, it makes a lot more sense. The American Astronaut takes place in an alternate past where all the astronauts are roughneck thieves and derelicts. Samuel Curtis is an interplanetary trader who deals in rare goods. He’s given a mission to retrieve the body of Venus’ now deceased king and replace him with a new king. So Samuel travels to Jupiter to trade a Real Live Girl for The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast, and eventually travels to Venus to trade the boy for the remains of Johnny R., the former king. Pretty simple, right?

What makes the story even more fun is the fact that this film is a musical. Yes, The American Astronaut is a musical about space cowboys with mostly unnamed characters and painted sets. As far as weird movies go, this is one of the weirdest.

But it’s so much more than just a quirky film. The music is fantastic, and even though the songs don’t make a lot of sense, they still fit with the scenes they’re in. The best example is the “Hey Boy!” sequence (see it above). Two henchmen walk into a bar bathroom after Samuel and instead of kicking the door in to intimidate him, they put on a record and sing to him as he’s sitting on the toilet. The scene ends with one of the henchmen taking a picture of Samuel on the toilet, then both henchmen disappear for the rest of the film. It’s so bizarre, yet so incredibly entertaining.

The whole universe McAbee has set up is fascinating, even without all the special effects. Men and women are segregated on different planets, space travel can be mastered by just about anyone, and people randomly sing and dance in bathrooms. With a universe so diverse, many would think adding color would be ideal, but I think this film needs to be in black and white. The concept of space is kind of intimidating as it is, but McAbee makes it even more intimidating by filling it with roughneck cowboy types as astronauts. The American Astronaut is essentially a space western, a genre that has been done before, but definitely not like this.

Grade: A- (for an unconventional premise done in an even more unconventional way)
Weirdness Score: 9/10 (or, weird enough to be shot entirely on a 35mm camera)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

One thought on “Strange Cinema: The American Astronaut (2001)

  1. Pingback: Strange Cinema: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) | Culture Vault

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