The promise of Iron Sky is a great and wondrous one. It’s Moon Nazis. Moon Nazis, people. Swirl it around in your mind for a moment. Those two words alone should put enough fuel in the car to get it to the theater, but with a concept like a Fourth Reich hiding on the dark side of the moon, the movie can only take one of two paths. Sadly, all too sadly, it takes a wrong turn and ends up riding the highway all the way into the city dump at the end of it. Stupid, cheap and aiming above its IQ, this movie is the bad kind of garbage.
It goes without saying that there’s a good kind. Some of the best spoof movies have fallen under that category. Like all tones, there are right and wrong ways to handle them, and although director Timo Vuorensola’s long-awaited sci-fi explosion of bizarre alternate history starts off with decent overacting and wacky antics, it forgets its B-Movie roots halfway through. That’s its fatal mistake.
Not that it was headed for greatness early on, but it was at least headed for the kind of mild enjoyability that makes bad movies worth watching. Udo Kier is Kortzfleisch, the new dictator. Julia Dietze is the Earth Expert and schoolteacher, Renate Richter, who’s convinced that the Nazi way is the way of peace. Götz Otto is Klaus Adler, the next in line to rule with an impotent anger. Christopher Kirby is James Washington, the black astronaut who shocks the Moon Nazis and threatens to disrupt their invasion plans.
It sounds excellently ridiculous. Too bad it’s no good.
To its credit, the team behind it clearly knows the better movies that came before it. The Great Dictator is a plot point, and there’s a reference to the iconic alien hand syndrome of Dr. Strangelove. It’s a limp, poorly played reference, but it’s there. That’s something. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. While the absurdity is piled medium high, and a handful of the gags work beautifully, the movie gets so weighed down by a lost focus and its attempted poor man’s political theater that the jokes get fewer, farther between, and facile.
It should have been a huge tip off when the President of 2018 is a Sarah Palin mock-off (Stephanie Paul) that the movie’s “relevant” comedy would be too easy and too blunt. It’s so on the nose that they should have gotten a mortgage on the left nostril. When it’s Nazis on the Moon, the jokes come with a lightheartedness that mostly works. Kortzfleisch keeps eating candies, Richter is sucked out toward space solely to strip her down to her underwear, and something else probably happens that’s decently funny.
When it’s strident political commentary, the production comes off like a small child repeating a joke it heard on the nightly news. Plus, that small child just happens to have written the joke on a hammer and is swinging it repeatedly at your face.
Simply put, when it nods to Dr. Strangelove, things are at least okay. When it tries to be Dr. Strangelove, things go horribly, horribly, wrong.
Beyond getting stuck on a tired, one-note joke for its second half, the movie is plagued by being average. It never swings for the fences. Had it been offensively bad, it might still have been entertaining. As it stands, it’s so bland that shrugging seems like it would be giving it too much credit.
To be fair, it’s a few lightyears ahead of what the Asylum puts out, but it’s still far from enjoyable. Kirby is a generic hero who has no ups when he’s trying to go over the top. Dietze is stronger as the hot Nazi (a Hot-zi?) and the true lead of the film. Its successes are usually tied to her, and she’s funny even though she’s not given much to work with. However, it’s unsurprisingly Udo Kier who steals scenes like it was his job. Trivially, it’s awesome that he was both in Melancholia and this within the span of a year, but he is the only actor here who truly 1) gets how dumb all of this is and 2) plays along with a straight face.
Is it cheap? Sort of. The CGI is up-to-date, which gives it a visual boost, and there are plenty of large set pieces complete with explosions and people running in the streets. They probably pale in comparison to the difficulty of putting a black man in whiteface and a Nazi uniform and parading him on the daylight avenues of New York City, but they’re sufficient in giving the movie a strange air of credibility.
What’s cheap is the script.
Frankly, there aren’t enough jokes and there aren’t enough jokes that work. If there were a stronger plot, it could take some of the burden, but it doesn’t grow much beyond “There are Nazis on the moon, and they are going to attack.” At the same time, even with the high concept, the damned thing is overly complicated. It shifts from one group of characters to the next, trying hard to find which one is consistently funny, and no one is to be found. There are elements worth a giggle – Washington turning into an albino hobo warning people about the Moon Nazis attacking for example – but the overall result is incredibly, disappointingly flaccid.
What’s worse is the completely misguided swerve into intelligent humor. The script just isn’t smart enough for it, and cramming lame political snipes into a movie that’s already established itself as throwaway zany fun with an army that goose steps in low gravity makes it even more obvious that the joke writers didn’t get their own punchlines. The clown shouldn’t try high satire, especially if the clown isn’t that funny to begin with.
It’s impossible not to have hopes dashed here. It’s a hell of a premise that was given a half-assed treatment, and that’s always uniquely tragic. At the end of the day, with an idea like Moon Nazis, everyone should be cheering for it to excel. Unfortunately, this is the movie equivalent of the baseball team that gets an ace pitcher only to lose all of its games. So much promise, so little delivery.
Unless of course that delivery is headed toward the town dump.
Complete Berlinale Coverage