'Ad Astra' shoots for stars, but feels lost in space

Brad Pitt stars in disappointing space epic that borrows heavily from other pics

Brad Pitt plays an astronaut in the space epic "Ad Astra."

Outer space has been the setting for some recent compelling films, particularly "Gravity" with Sandra Bullock and "The Martian" starring Matt Damon.

Brad Pitt is the latest Hollywood star to don a space suit and the result is "Ad Astra," which is Latin for "To the Stars." On paper, it certainly seemed like a good idea.

Pitt plays Maj. Roy McBride, an astronaut whose legendary spaceman father (played by Tommy Lee Jones) embarked 30 years earlier on a deep exploration mission and hasn't been heard from for 16 years. The world thinks he's dead, but then a violent series of radioactive bursts start slamming into the earth, causing widespread destruction.

Turns out that dad's actions near the planet Neptune are directly related to these new troubles and the son is sent on a mission to stop him ... and maybe resolve some long-simmering daddy issues he's been harboring for years.

Pitt gives a good performance as a highly-professional astronaut who calmly handles all kinds of extreme situations, from being attacked on the moon by space pirates, to stepping in when the pilot of his spacecraft freezes up.   

Director and co-writer James Gray ("The Lost City of Z" and "We Own the Night") has included some visually enticing scenes that seem inspired by the classic "2001: A Space Odyssey." In that movie, the astronauts traveled to the moon on a Pan Am spaceship. Here it's a vessel operated by Virgin Atlantic.

Other scenes look like duplications from the before-mentioned "Gravity" and "The Martian." Those films had regular moments of high drama that drew audiences in. Unfortunately, "Ad Astra" gets bogged down with constant voice-overs from Pitt talking about his character's feelings. That slowed-down pace isn't helped by a potentially-strong supporting cast that's underutilized.

Liv Tyler plays Pitt's love interest, who appears only in a few minutes of flashback sequences. Veteran actor Donald Sutherland makes a strong appearance as an astronaut colleague of Pitt's dad, but makes a quick exit early in the film.

Probably the biggest disappointment is Tommy Lee Jones, who also has very little screen time for such an important character. Jones can also be accused of trying to channel Marlon Brando's crazed military commander from "Apocalypse Now."

"Ad Astra" winds up being a diasappointing film. It borrows too much from other movies and injects thoughts and feelings that seem better suited at a therapy session. The end result is a slow-moving, unsatisfying experience.

Rated PG-13
2 stars out of 5