I don’t like Pan’s Labyrinth. A controversial statement, I know. One that is undoubtedly making readers question my credibility. I found the young protagonist to be dull and the evil general to be so over the top he does not suit the tone of the movie. Thus, I was bored by it. Boredom is the absolute worst sin any movie can commit. Of course, what piques one’s interest, might be utter tedium to another person. With that in mind, I believe anybody watching the science fiction drama Astro will be bored to tears.
Astro stars Gary Daniels as Jack Adams, a former military specialist, now a widower living on a ranch with his daughter, Laura Lee (Courtney Akbar). Multi-billionaire Alexander Biggs (Marshal Hilton) comes asking for help from his longtime friend, but Jack isn’t interested. That same night, unknown mercenaries attack them, but Jack takes them out using his formidable martial arts and weapons skills.
Jack wants answers as to who attacked his family, and why, so he decides to re-evaluate Biggs’s offer, in exchange for help discovering the truth. What Jack doesn’t know is that it was Biggs who hired the soldiers of fortune to wreck his home. Once at the aerospace mogul’s labs, Jack discovers what exactly it is Biggs needs him for. While traversing space in his private spaceship, he picked up an alien lifeform from another planet. This extraterrestrial, known as Subject A (Luke Gregory Crosby), shares DNA with Jack, and Biggs is going to get to the bottom of how that is possible. Unbeknownst to Jack, is that Biggs is controlled by Vivian (Max Wasa) and Viktor (Louis Mandylor), two aliens who have their own endgame in mind.
Meanwhile, Biggs’ good for nothing son, Charlie (Orson Chaplin), gets caught in a sexual misconduct scandal, right when the private science tech company his dad owns does not need scrutinizing eyes on them. Another meanwhile is happening as Laura Lee is staying with her uncle and aunt and meets a cute boy who helps out her uncle sometimes.
“While traversing space in his private spaceship, he picked up an alien lifeform…”
Every plot point in that last paragraph could and should have been left out. They are not compelling, substantially pad out the movie, and don’t add anything in the way of characterization or plot momentum. Astro runs a lengthy one hour and forty-five minutes long, and it only has enough story for forty minutes, if that. The real purpose of Subject A, and him becoming more of a focus, does not happen until past the hour mark.
If the main plot were in any way exciting or the lead characters relatable at all, maybe Astro would have been a so bad, its good watch. However, that is not the case. The film doesn’t have one overarching plot, more like twenty subplots, most of them leading nowhere. Viktor continually reminds Biggs that it is they, these aliens that saved his life made him a billionaire and afforded him the chance to travel the vast reaches of space. A firefight when Biggs was in the armed forces leaves him paralyzed, but thanks to their advanced technology, they save him. They do this in exchange for… for… I am not sure at all. Another flashback is told right as that one ends, and a short time later, yet another flashback occurs. These flashbacks don’t flesh out Biggs in the manner writer-director Asif Akbar intends. Instead, they try the audience’s patience, daring them to stay awake for the rest of the movie.
That the dialogue is convoluted and hammy makes the movie all the more off-putting. The screenplay never focuses on one thing long enough for the audience to invest in anything happening onscreen. Though, it is the lackluster direction that hammers the nails into the coffin of drudgery that is Astro. Akbar has ten directing credits, according to IMDb. Nothing in this sci-fi tale, as presented, suggests he has ever seen a camera before, much less worked with one.
“…Daniels is empathetic and still holds his own in a fight…”
Action scenes are so badly chopped up it is damn near impossible to follow what is happening. When the mercs raid the ranch, it seems to be only three of them at first. But, Jack puts three of them down in the front yard. Then there’s a sequence in the stable with at least two more bad guys. When did they get there? How did they get there? How did Jack see them? The lack of geography sucks the audience out of the moment, as they are too busy piecing those questions together, futile though it proves, to be paying attention to the martial arts.
That the choreography seems to be made by someone with the most basic understanding of punches and kicks does mean the audience is going to be even more frustrated by the movie. The long, extended scenes between any vital plot development or action beat have no weight or emotional pull them. It does not help that many of the subplots presented during this time lead nowhere and serve no purpose.
Despite all this, the acting isn’t terrible. Every single major player in the cast has been better elsewhere, but Daniels is empathetic and still holds his own in a fight (it is not his fault that the editing is so bad). Mandylor tries but fails to enliven his character beyond the stale exposition that is his character’s sole purpose. Despite having maybe fifteen minutes of screentime, Crosby is quite good as the elven looking, kidnapped lifeform. As Biggs, Hilton is trying not to fall subject to the crazed, selfish rich person stereotype, imbuing him with some dignity. It is not enough to save the character, but the effort is appreciated.
Astro has an interesting story idea and a talented cast. But it, and they, are squandered by terrible story structure, nonsensical dialogue, way too many plot threads, and the worst direction imaginable, lacking confidence, style, and basic shot composition competency. Without a doubt, this is one of the worst films of 2018.
Astro (2018) Directed by Asif Akbar. Written by Asif Akbar, Bernard Selling. Starring Gary Daniels, Courtney Akbar, Marshal Hilton, Louis Mandylor, Max Wasa, Luke Gregory Crosby.