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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Finally this hour, a review of the latest film to ponder life in space. "Moon" is about an astronaut who starts deteriorating mentally, as his long lunar stay is nearing an end. Bob Mondello says it's a throwback to a kind of science-fiction movie that's not made much anymore.

BOB MONDELLO: Back before "Star Wars" made cowboys in space the default setting for movie sci-fi, there was something you might call the techno-skeptical psychodrama about the terrible isolation of outer space. Think "2001: A Space Odyssey," with its lone astronaut supervised by a computer that's going haywire. Or think "Silent Running," with a frantic space botanist and droids Huey, Dewey and Louie(ph) tending what's left of earth's plant life in pressurized geodesic domes.

These days, science-fiction films tend to be either alien infested or populated by folks who think photon blasters are the answer to life's questions. And "Moon" offers a definite alternative, quieter and more about the humanity of humanity.

The film opens with an ad for a massive corporation that's mining the lunar landscape. Then we meet the corporation's only lunar employee, Sam, played by Sam Rockwell. At the end of his three-year solo assignment on the moon, he is so worn out that if he weren't aided by the HAL-like robot, Gerty, his tasks might not even get done.

(Soundbite of film, "Moon")

Mr. SAM ROCKWELL (Actor): (As Sam): Gerty, have you heard anything new about anyone fixing lunar-sat?

Mr. KEVIN SPACEY (Actor): (As Robot) No, Sam. What I understand is it's fairly low on the company's priority list right now.

Mr. ROCKWELL: (As Sam) You tell them to sort that out. I've only got two weeks, but it's not fair to whoever is coming up here next.

Mr. SPACEY: (As Robot) I will, Sam. Do you want me to finish cutting your hair later?

Mr. ROCKWELL: (As Sam) Na, come on. Let's finish this.

MONDELLO: Alas Gerty, who's voiced by Kevin Spacey, is not much help when Sam starts hallucinating during an ore-retrieval run and crashes his lunar vehicle into a huge mining machine.

(Soundbite of film, "Moon")

(Soundbite of warning alarm)

Unidentified Woman: Danger. Atmosphere compromised.

MONDELLO: Waking up later in sick bay, Sam can't remember anything, but he looks fitter than he did before the crash. And he's definitely being monitored more closely by Gerty, who doesn't want him wandering around anymore.

(Soundbite of film, "Moon")

Mr. SPACEY: (As Robot) I'm not permitted to let you go outside.

Mr. ROCKWELL: (As Sam) Just, we'll keep it between you and me. Okay, pal? This thing is spraying gas. Let's go, come on.

Mr. SPACEY: (As Robot) Just to check the exterior shell. Okay.

MONDELLO: As Sam starts puzzling out what's happening and even doubting his sanity, the audience will be doing the same. Not too feverishly, I suspect. Nathan Parker's screenplay is based on a story by director Duncan Jones, who used to be called Zowie Bowie, being the son of David Bowie. The two filmmakers quite like the psycho part of psychodrama, and their star is having a high old time illuminating a fractured personality that is both at war with itself and its own best friend. Sam Rockwell is such an engaging presence, in fact, he may well convince audiences that the film is what it means to be, a brain teaser for the thinking sci-fi fan.

The problem is that a truly thinking sci-fi fan's brain is going to reject the tease's premise, a bit of corporate chicanery that practically begs not to be looked at closely. I'm as willing as the next guy, more willing maybe, to believe that greed leads corporations to devalue their workers' humanity. But if you start figuring out how expensive this greedy corporation's unique form of devaluing would have to be, the movie stops making much sense.

Director Jones marshals special-effects wizardry and Rockwell's charisma and finesses furiously for most of the film's length, but once you have a little time to think, "Moon's" credibility flies off to the moon. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: And at our Web site, you can find clips from "Moon." You can also read reviews of more new movies. That's at npr.org.

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