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(1999) (Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: An astronaut's wife becomes suspicious of her husband and her ensuing pregnancy after he returns from a space mission, during which he blacked out for two minutes, and begins acting differently.
Spencer (JOHNNY DEPP) and Jillian Armacost (CHARLIZE THERON) are a happily married, two-income couple. While she teaches second grade, he's a shuttle astronaut who's just been sent back into orbit, much to her worried dismay.

Her worries prove to be true when NASA official Sherman Reese (JOE MORTON) escorts her and fellow NASA wife, Natalie Streck (DONNA MURPHY), to space headquarters. There she learns there was an explosion that resulted in the agency losing contact with Spencer and fellow astronaut, Alex Streck (NICK CASSAVETES), for two minutes.

Although the men were safely rescued and returned to Earth, both Jillian and Natalie become suspicious that neither of their husbands will talk about the incident. Jillian's suspicions grow when Spencer announces that he's giving up NASA for a high paying executive job with a defense contractor in New York City.

Once there, Jillian learns that she's pregnant, but she's still troubled by the tragedy that struck their former friends, a memory that's exacerbated by her raging hormones. Her sister, Nan (CLEA DUVALL), tries to convince her that nothing's wrong, but when Reese suddenly shows up, seemingly blabbering about what really happened to Spencer, her anxiety grows.

From that point on, Jillian must figure out whether she's just imaging and blowing everything out of proportion, or that the twin babies growing inside her, in fact, may just be of another world.

If they're fans of Depp or Theron, they might, but otherwise this one probably won't be high on most kids' list of movies to see.
For violence, language and a strong scene of sexuality.
  • JOHNNY DEPP plays a gung-ho astronaut who returns from space a changed man. He drinks and uses strong profanity and also begins to act sinister and diabolical around his wife (at one point striking her) and apparently kills several others.
  • CHARLIZE THERON plays his wife, a woman prone to nervous breakdowns and drinking. After becoming pregnant and increasingly suspicious, she makes various attempts (including nearly taking some abortion-inducing pills) to remedy the situation.
  • JOE MORTON plays a NASA official who risks everything to warn Jillian about what he thinks is occurring with Spencer and her pregnancy.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    To those old enough to remember, the launching of any American spacecraft used to be an exciting thing -- whether it involved the old Apollo, Gemini or Mercury missions or the relatively more current space shuttle flights. People would be glued to their seats watching the proceedings unfold, and even if there was a delay -- a hold in the countdown pattern for instance -- the suspense and anticipation kept things thrilling.

    Perhaps writer/director Rand Ravich was trying to evoke that same suspenseful hold pattern in his first feature film, "The Astronaut's Wife," a thriller wannabe that builds its suspense so slowly that by the time the ludicrous ending finally arrives, you'll be wondering why you were so patient.

    A visually stylistic but essentially empty combination of "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Devil's Advocate," the film simply doesn't deliver what the audience expects from it and consequently, never achieves liftoff.

    Many films occasionally borrow bits and pieces from others, and if they use such material in an imaginative or at least relatively new fashion, such harvesting isn't always completely objectionable. For instance, the fact that the similarly plotted "Rosemary's Baby" is three decades old means it was ripe for the picking.

    Yet this film has stripped so many of its elements -- the New York couple, the friend's suicide, the pregnant woman's growing paranoia, and, of course, the husband impregnating the wife with anything but a bundle of joy -- that no matter how many weeds have been pulled and how much fresh paint has been applied, we can still see the original, creepy structure underneath.

    Of course, today's audience will more likely see the similarity to "The Devil's Advocate" -- where a young New York-based wife gets paranoid and then goes crazy over supernatural occurrences involving her husband -- and it's surprising that lead actress Charlize Theron ("Mighty Joe Young," "Celebrity") chose to appear in both films.

    To be fair, she's mostly credible in the role -- and is certainly easy on the eyes -- but doesn't quite manage to elicit as much audience sympathy as needed to pull off some of the more dramatic moments required of her. Ravich's lethargic and underdeveloped script doesn't help her any, either. Nonetheless, the similarity to her "Devil's Advocate" character will ensure that many won't be able to shake the "been there, seen that" feeling while watching this film.

    Whether portraying the "good guy" astronaut or "bad guy" husband Johnny Depp ("Ed Wood," "Edward Scissorhands") generates even less of an impression and makes one wonder about the choices this very talented performer has recently made (he also appeared in the absolutely atrocious "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"). Although he's similarly constrained by the slow- moving plot, his take on the character just isn't that credible, particularly after the predictable revelation about him is finally made.

    Supporting performances, from the likes of Joe Morton ("Blues Brothers 2000," "Terminator 2: Judgement Day") as the nervous and even more paranoid NASA official and Clea Duvall ("Can't Hardly Wait," "The Faculty") as the compassionate sister, are decent, but similarly underwritten.

    That's the film's biggest problem. Ravich (who previously wrote "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh") never takes his characters far enough in their development or subsequent behavior. In making this sort of thriller, one of two approaches can be taken. First, we can be privy (as can the characters) about the others' motivations, and the tension then comes from knowing, for instance, that the killer is on the loose and coming after the heroine. That's the old "cat and mouse" plot.

    The other, and more effective way, though, is to keep all of the characters shaded in various levels of "grayness." In this film that doesn't happen and we know the final facts way too early -- despite some earlier, but meager attempts to mislead us. Yet Ravich keeps the film plodding along with clearly delineated characters in the misguided belief that he doesn't need to ratchet up the suspense factor to keep us scared, intrigued, or least partially interested.

    If the suspense factor is to be left idling, then the audience must be nebulous about the characters, their behavior, and ultimate motives (the overall gray quality). For this film, I wanted to worry that Jillian really may have been going crazy via perfect -- and I mean perfect -- explanations of her concerns/paranoia. That same holds true for Reese possibly being an actual escaped lunatic (since, after all, his "evidence" never seems credible enough, thus having a mental ward staff after him would have been a nice touch) and that Spencer may or may not be just a concerned husband right up until the last moment.

    While I assume that most of that was Ravich's goal -- and to his credit he does try to accomplish some of that -- the end result is a thriller that just isn't that thrilling. And when the film finally reveals all of the explanatory details toward the end, it simply becomes laughably bad, particularly since we never had the chance to develop a vested interest in any of the characters or the story.

    Although it's not extremely irritating or painfully bad (despite a few cringe-inducing bits of dialogue), the film is too predictable, slow and not involving enough to come anywhere close to earning a recommendation (which must have been New Line's reaction since they opted not to screen it in advance for the critics).

    More akin to sitting and waiting for a delayed flight at an airport gate than eagerly anticipating the launch of a craft that's primed to soar to new heights, "The Astronaut's Wife" clearly isn't "Rosemary's Baby. And although it sets up the makings for a sequel, don't hold your breath waiting to see "Twin Sons of An Astronaut's Wife" anytime soon. We give the film just a 3 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this R-rated suspense/thriller. Profanity is extreme due to varied uses of the "f" word, while other profanities and a few colorful phrases are also present. Violence is rated as extreme due to several violent deaths -- two by electrocution -- and those scenes and other, generally suspenseful and supernatural ones may be unsettling or tense to some viewers.

    A sexual encounter that includes graphic movement and related sounds gives that category a heavy rating, although no nudity is present. Another less obvious and non-graphic encounter is present as is a sexually related bit of dialogue.

    Beyond other related material (extreme suspenseful music), a few, mildly bloody scenes and a moderate amount of drinking (with one character stating she's drunk), the rest of the film is relatively void of major objectionable content. As always, however, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home, you may want to take a closer look at the listed content.

    Of special note for those concerned with repetitive flashing of bright lights on the screen, some of that occurs toward the end of the movie.

  • Jillian and her sister have wine.
  • People have drinks at a party, including Spencer (cocktail) and Jillian (beer). We then see Spencer and several others drinking shots of liquor.
  • People have drinks at a reception where Spencer has a cocktail while Jillian has champagne. Jillian and another woman then have more champagne (the latter leaves when she hears something about "burning rum balls" in the kitchen), and when Spencer later brings his wife yet another glass, she states that she's drunk. The two then go off and begin to fool around (still in this public place, but out of sight) and the next morning he apologizes if he was rough during sex, stating that he was drunk.
  • We see a drink by the radio that Spencer's listening to.
  • Spencer and Jillian have wine with another couple at dinner.
  • We see some beer in Jillian's fridge.
  • Spencer and Nan have wine with dinner and Jillian looked like she was also drinking wine (while pregnant).
  • A woman has wine with lunch with Jillian.
  • We see that the tip of Jillian's finger is bloody after she sliced it while cutting vegetables.
  • We see a hypodermic needle get jabbed into a patient's chest.
  • Alex is somewhat bloody (from the mouth, some on his neck) when he collapses at a party.
  • We see some surgeons whose gloves are a bit bloody.
  • As a person squeezes another person to death, we see some blood flowing from fingernail wounds to a hand, and then see blood flowing from the victim's ear and mouth.
  • Obviously Spencer and whatever alien life force is inside him have both types of attitudes.
  • Some may find a woman who gives Jillian abortion-inducing pills as having both, and likewise Jillian for considering and then nearly taking the pills.
  • Depending on one's tolerance for such material -- including the film's overall supernatural tone -- the following may or may not be suspenseful/scary.
  • A scene where Alex has a convulsion, goes into cardiac arrest and must be zapped with a defibrillator may be intense or unsettling to some viewers.
  • Alex begins to act weirdly at a party before finally collapsing.
  • The power goes out, a girl screams and we then see that a person has committed suicide by electrocuting herself in the shower with a plugged-in radio. Later, there's a flashback nightmare to this scene where Jillian sees herself as the suicide victim.
  • The way that Reese seems to be acting somewhat crazy around Jillian may be unsettling to some viewers.
  • As Jillian goes to meet Reese at a subway entrance, Spencer suddenly shows up and she must hide from him.
  • As Jillian sits in a closed storage room, the lights suddenly go out. Panicked, she races out into the dimly lit hallway, while we (and possibly she) hear whispering voices and she tries to find her way out of the maze-like hallways. At the end, someone suddenly grabs her arm, but it's just someone showing her how to turn back on the automatic shutoff lights.
  • Spencer nearly watches a tape that Reese sent Jillian warning her about him.
  • Spencer has a dream that shows the outer space encounter (accompanied by suspenseful music).
  • Spencer yells at Jillian, acts menacingly toward her and then slaps her hard enough to send her to the floor.
  • As a person squeezes another person to death, we see some blood flowing from fingernail wounds to a hand, and then see blood flowing from the victim's ear and mouth.
  • Jillian sees or imagines menacing events as she tries to get home (including someone following her in a cab and then a rapid fire montage of scenes as she travels on the subway). She then tries to get into her apartment as Spencer slowly follows her and then threatens to electrocute herself and/or Spencer if he comes near her.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "F*cking A," "Piece of sh*t" and "Freak."
  • A person commits suicide by electrocuting herself in the shower with a plugged-in radio. Later, a person purposefully kills another person by electrocuting them as they stand in a puddle of water.
  • A person suddenly shows up behind a fridge door when it's closed.
  • A hand suddenly grabs Jillian at the end of a suspenseful scene.
  • Spencer surprises Jillian.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful, ominous and/or scary music occurs throughout the film
  • None.
  • At least 9 "f" words (1 used sexually, another with "mother"), 7 "s" words, 1 possible slang term for female genitals ("c*nt"), 5 asses, 5 hells, and 6 uses of "Oh God," 5 of "Oh my God," 3 of "Jesus Christ," 2 each of "G-damn" and "Jesus" and 1 use of "My God" as exclamations.
  • We see Spencer and Jillian in bed under the covers with her lying on top of his back. Although we don't see any nudity, he does make a comment about whether she likes fruit or not. When she says that she does, he rolls her over, makes a comment about "Ain't that a peach" and we then hear her ask, "Is that for me?" as they vigorously roll around, completely under the covers.
  • At a reception, but out of sight, Spencer and Jillian passionately start to make out against a wall. He removes her jacket and then runs his hand down to her crotch and then up inside her skirt. We then hear him undo his pants (along with her heavy breathing), see him lift up her leg around his waist and then start having sex (after talking about wanting to be inside her). As the camera then tilts sideways, we see what looks like the two of them in bed with him on top of her. Although most of what we see is a head and shoulders shot of the two, we occasionally see near full shots of them with graphic movement and related sounds (including him climaxing), but no nudity. Later, we see her bare back as she sits up nude in bed (but don't see anything else).
  • As Spencer gives Jillian a sponge bath, we see her bare back as well as just the tops of her breasts as she sits in the tub.
  • When Jillian tells Spencer that he killed her husband, he replies "And I f*cked his wife."
  • Natalie smokes once, a friend of the main couple smokes a cigar and some miscellaneous characters also smoke.
  • Jillian's paranoia about her husband, as well as his behavior toward her, obviously puts some strain on their marriage.
  • The wives worry about their husbands after they return from their space mission. Natalie then sees her husband go into cardiac arrest, and later sees him convulse and die at a party.
  • Nan briefly comments about their parents dying some time ago and it severely affecting Jillian.
  • Suicide.
  • Nervous breakdowns.
  • The abortion-inducing pills that a woman gives Jillian to take care of her problem (at the time Jillian doesn't know whether she's impregnated with aliens or may simply be going crazy).
  • Alex forces a kiss on Natalie who pushes him away. He then knocks things from their table, gets up and then collapses onto another table.
  • A person commits suicide by electrocuting herself in the shower with a plugged-in radio.
  • Jillian takes a hammer and smashes a small tape recorder.
  • Jillian tells a story about an enemy prince killing the good prince and then raping the princess (thus leaving the princess pregnant and unsure of whom the father is).
  • Jillian throws a drinking glass across a room where it shatters upon impact.
  • It's implied that a man is murdered by another man.
  • Spencer yells at Jillian, acts menacingly toward her and then slaps her hard enough to send her to the floor.
  • Jillian tumbles down a staircase, causing her to end up in a hospital.
  • As a person squeezes another person to death, we see some blood flowing from fingernail wounds to a hand, and then see blood flowing from the victim's ear and mouth.
  • A person purposefully electrocutes another person who's standing in a puddle of water.

  • Reviewed August 27, 1999 / Posted August 27, 1999

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