'Houston, we have a problem,' observes seven-year old Fred Z. Randall in RocketMan, as the clothes dryer he's been sitting in jumps to life and starts rotating, interrupting his imaginary space mission, complete with a photo of mother Earth propped up for observation from the dryer's window. 'Why can't he play football like the rest of the kids?' moans Randall's dad, but this 'little moon man' grows up to be a 30-year-old space nut with the gee-whiz curiosity of an adolescent whose mother still makes him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches shaped like rockets.
As played by stand-up comic turned actor Harland Williams (Dumb and Dumber), who's like a minor-league Jim Carrey crossed with Pee-wee Herman, Randall gets the thrill of a lifetime when he's offered a chance to join the first manned NASA mission to Mars. ('Sweet Alaskan asparagus tips, you're the Mars team,' the astonished would-be astronaut blurts out when they come recruiting.) Up until now, he's been a back-room software developer who designed the spaceship's navigation system, but when a slot unexpectedly opens on the astronaut team, Randall must suddenly prove he's outer-space material. The other contender is Gordon Peacock (Blake Boyd), whose chronic motion sickness has heretofore kept him from missions. When Randall breaks all known records on the G-force simulator and other tryout tests, he's given the nod, despite the unmasked skepticism of his fellow astronauts, seasoned Commander 'Wild Bill' Overbeck (William Sadler) and no-nonsense Mission Specialist Julie Ford (Jessica Lundy), who can't believe they must share their historic journey with a childishly enthusiastic nerd. ('Because we're going to Mars, we should take along a guy from Mars?' Ford dryly asks.) His only supporter is veteran astronaut Bud Nesbitt (Beau Bridges), who sees in Randall's raw passion an echo of his own outlaw spirit. Also on board, and seemingly operating on the same mental level as Randall, is Ulysses, a chimpanzee who's been recruited to retrieve underground Martian rock samples.
Young kids will probably take a shine to Williams' manic exuberance and lovable geek persona, but the comic will prove tiresome for teens and adults, as he lacks the unhinged brilliance of a Jim Carrey He's not given much to work with by screenwriters Craig Mazin and Greg Erb, whose idea of a good laugh is to have Randall sing a multilingual, butchered rendition of 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands' for the President of the United States. There's also an extended fart joke when Randall has some poorly timed gas while tethered to Overbeck, who's sharing his air line during a walk on the Red Planet. (Director Stuart Gillard shot the Martian terrain scenes outside Moeb, Utah.) The overeager astronaut skips hypersleep in order to paint a rendition of the Sistine Chapel on the ship's ceiling using the crew's food supply, and he finds time to fall for the likeable Lundy, prompting the duo to perform a zero-gravity rendition of 'When You Wish Upon a Star' while attired in makeshift Fred and Ginger costumes. Boyd makes a good straight-man foil to Williams, calling him 'the biggest idiot on two planets,' after the over-eager astronaut slides down the ladder and usurps his intention to be the first man on Mars. All in all, RocketMan is a slickly produced, reasonably funny family film from the company that does it best. And, yes, Elton John's 'Rocket Man' is heard over the closing credits.