The Astronaut Farmer Michael Polish

The Astronaut Farmer takes the American myth of the rebel dreamer and turns it into something so syrupy that it’s almost impossible to bear. Billy Bob Thornton plays that cliché hero, a rancher who never got his chance to fly as a NASA astronaut and thus has taken it upon himself to build a rocket so that he might live the dream.

Naturally, he has an impossibly supportive wife (Virginia Madsen) who believes in him to the point of madness, a huge credit debt that might wipe out the family farm, a son (Max Theriot) who looks up to dad with awe and befuddlement, and the usual array of bureaucratic naysayers who want to tell him "no.” Will he launch without killing himself?

The film is corny even by Hollywood standards; you half-expect to see Shoeless Joe Jackson emerge from the hero’s cattle ranch to scream, "launch, damn it!” Twee fabulists Mark and Michael Polish, who wrote, produced and directed, have out-sugared even their dainty fantasia Northfork. That film had at least the strength of an original vision, where this sad pile of clichés hasn’t a single idea to call its own.

It’s tragic to see Madsen consigned to the supportive wifey-wife role to which all 40-ish actresses are doomed, just as it’s perplexing to see Thornton doing the antithesis of his Sling Blade days for what I hope was a gross and unseemly amount of money.

To be sure, M. David Mullen’s photography is suitably lip smacking and the film would be completely intolerable without his panoramic sunsets and gorgeous landscapes. But this is the kind of film for which bad critics warn people to bring their insulin. (Warner)