Duncan Jones is no pup: He's 38 years old, so he's had time to get all of those inchoate ideas out of his eager young head and come up with something at least a little more complex and mature. And yet, in his debut feature film, all he can muster is a dreary tale about a corrupt energy company set in the year 2026, not quite far enough in the future for it to seem futuristic.
Moon opens with a nice sequence that plays like one of those corporate commercials they air on the Sunday-morning political talk shows. But it's part of the movie, an ad for Lunar Industries Ltd., which mines clean and abundant Helium 3 from the moon and brings it back to Earth.
The company's lunar station has one employee, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who's about to fulfill his three-year contract. He's eager to get home to his wife and daughter, who was born just before he left. But then something happens: He's in an accident while out driving the rover, and when he awakens in sick bay, he's being cared for by -- Sam Bell.
Turns out he's a clone, one of a series of Sam Bells who have worked on the station over the years. The two Sams don't get along well at first, but when they realize they're in this together, they begin to conspire to save their life. They have a bit of an ally in Gerty 3000 (Kevin Spacey), their computer-cum-robot, who talks with them just as HAL 9000 did in 2001, but who's more on their side than on the company's.
Jones' movie is a catalogue of unanswered questions and missed opportunities, a novel in short-story form, like something done by a student in his first fiction-writing class who's read too much (or not enough?) science fiction. Its themes are as banal as its story is dull. Is memory real? Is identity? Like, who are we, man? Who am I? I'm talking 'bout the man in the mirror.
Rockwell gives two very strong performances in Moon, playing his character at two different levels of awareness in their lives. But because it is the same actor, Jones can only do so much with them visually, and after a while, his need to keep them apart, or to use the back of a body double for scenes where they come together, feels more self-conscious than watching Godzilla eat Tokyo.
Once you realize how little else is going on in Moon, its center becomes the relationship that develops between the two Sam clones, who evolve into each other's caretaker. So I think Jones should have cast twins in the role, allowing himself more flexibility in working with his actors and his camera. Twins are, after all, the closest thing to clones that we have. I don't see that changing too much between now and 2026.
Starts Fri., July 10.