Ted Danson’s box office star may wane a little further with “Pontiac Moon,” a sincere but tedious road movie that derives its title and inspiration from the Apollo landing/moonwalk in 1969. Pic’s quirky, almost European flavor lends itself to a small, sensitive scale, but the filmmakers shoot for the stars and end up with a story that’s more mundane than magical.
That’s more bad news for fans of Danson, whose last effort, “Getting Even With Dad,” also failed to lift off commercially. “Moon” shares certain elements with that film, focusing on the relationship between a father and son, as well as the family’s emotionally scarred, polyphobic mother (Mary Steenburgen).
Katherine (Steenburgen) hasn’t ventured outside the house for seven years, and her husband Washington, an eccentric teacher, fears her phobias may be extending to their 11-year-old son (Ryan Todd, a dead ringer for Brandon Cruz circa “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”), who isn’t even allowed to ride in a car.
Seizing on the imminent moon landing to create “one perfect act,” Washington decides to take the boy and his vintage Pontiac the 1,776 miles (additional symbolism regarding his declaration of independence) to Spires of the Moon National Park, which would push the car’s mileage to 238,857 — equaling the distance between the earth and the moon.
That flimsy premise provides the basis for a journey of self-discovery that never quite makes it onto the emotional highway.
For starters, nearly the entire movie is rendered anti-climactic after Steenburgen’s character challenges her fears and takes off after the pair, leaving scant suspense as to the inevitable reunion.
The script by Finn Taylor and Jeffrey Brown also does a halfbaked job of developing the period, as father and son encounter a Vietnam veteran Native American (Eric Schweig of “Last of the Mohicans”), hostile rednecks, a flirty waitress (Cathy Moriarty) and a bumbling sheriff (John Schuck).
Director Peter Medak, whose recent directorial offerings include grittier fare like “The Krays” and “Romeo Is Bleeding,” tries too hard to create a sense of wonder — an overreaching exemplified by Randy Edelman’s score.
At first overly mannered, Danson settles into his character and offers a fairly convincing performance as the frustrated intellectual, a stretch the studio probably owed him after 11 years of yeoman service on “Cheers.”
Steenburgen is a tangled mass of nerves as the frantic wife, but Todd’s youth isn’t afforded much depth, nor does the story bother to develop Schweig’s intriguing character.
Tech credits are solid but, like the rest of “Moon,” don’t quite shine.