Fly Me to the Moon movie review: Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum’s passable fake moon landing rom-com

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Fly Me to the Moon is in cinemas now
Fly Me to the Moon is in cinemas now Credit: Sony Pictures

They don’t call him Tricky Dicky for no reason.

Richard Nixon is an unseen character in the light-hearted and mostly charming rom-com Fly Me to the Moon, but his grubby fingerprints are all over it.

The movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum is a fun romp with decent chemistry between its leads, some passable banter and enough energy to sustain its runtime. On those points, it largely works as a rom-com.

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But the more interesting part is what Fly Me to the Moon has to say about conspiracy theories and some people’s elastic relationships to the truth. People like Nixon — and politicians of his ilk.

It’s 1968 and the space race between the US and the USSR is still on, both want to be the first to have boots on the moon’s surface. As it always was, a moon mission wasn’t about resources or having a strategic military outpost, it was the ultimate projection of power.

The space race was always about hearts and minds.

Ray Romano and Channing Tatum in Fly Me to the Moon (2024)
Serious scientists at work. Credit: Dan McFadden/Sony Pictures

The American superego wouldn’t be able to brook a loss. But it also didn’t want to pay for the massive and mounting bills.

With the Apollo 11 mission less than a year away, the government recognised it needed to get the American people back on side and excited, and with that, then the money would flow from Congress’s tightened purse strings.

Enter Kelly Jones (Johansson), a slick Manhattan ad executive who could talk circles around Don Draper. She’s approached by a mysterious man called Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), unlikely to be his real name. Moe works for Nixon and he wants Kelly to sell NASA to the public.

The launch director of the Apollo 11 mission, Cole Davis (Tatum), is still reeling from the trauma of Apollo 1, in which three astronauts died during a rehearsal test. He wants Apollo 11 to go very differently.

He’s a serious guy and Kelly’s moxie freaks him out. She casts actors to play the tech guys on the news, starts selling sponsorship deals to cereal brands, watch companies, anything that has a logo and money.

Fly Me to the Moon is in cinemas now
Two good looking people caught in the rain? You know what’s going to happen. Credit: Sony Pictures

The two of them aren’t on the same page but, you know, you put two attractive people together in a workplace rom-com and you know exactly what’s going to happen. The predictability is often the point and the appeal.

The conflict here is not whether the mission will succeed — we know from history that it will. The fly in the ointment is Moe’s insistence that Kelly creates a fake moon landing on a set in a hangar. Initially, as a contingency plan, in case anything went wrong, but then as the thing that would be broadcast to billions because Nixon must have full control of what the world sees.

Obviously there have been loads of conspiracy theories that the moon landing was faked, and in this supercharged age of paranoia in not just the dark corners of the interwebs but everywhere, the myth has persisted.

Fly Me to the Moon weaponises the conspiracy theory to spin a fable about truth and lies through Kelly, someone who always hustles and lies to get what she wants. She’s incredible at it. When we first meet her, she has a fake pregnancy to land a car account.

Fly Me to the Moon is in cinemas now
Jim Rash as the director hired to fake the moon landing. Credit: Sony Pictures

But it’s a relatively surface exploration, like the aphorism she lands on at the end, “the truth is the truth, even if no one believes it, a lie is still a lie, even if everyone believes it”.

Johansson and Tatum have old-school movie charisma and they’re both earning those paycheques, but there is a sheen and slickness to the production design and costuming that lacks texture. You’re always aware of how fake it all is.

Fly Me to the Moon has some interesting ideas made accessible and the stars spark, but it’s a middle-of-the-road movie.

Rating: 3/5

Fly Me to the Moon is in cinemas now


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