Review: Asif Akbar's ASTRO Alienates With Campy, Drab Sci-Fi


Filmmaker Asif Akbar's debut arrives as a franchise hopeful in which we reunite once again with action star and actor Gary Daniels in the sci-fi thriller, Astro. It's not Akbar's first stab at the genre and so some of what he contributes here holds up in terms of select moments of visual allure and character design.

It's respite, though, and so what remains to be seen is if he can build on what he's constructed with this film and improve the many flawed aspects that occur in his delivery. Many of the key CG shots are outright laughable in Akbar's attempt to bring a vast, big scale science fiction film to serve as the backdrop of a Daniels-led vehicle, which bodes as only bodes as one of the more frustrating aspects offered in this hour-and-forty-five minute endeavor.

The film takes right off from a quote by Plato and echoing headlines from the 1940s about extraterrestrial life. Fast forward to December 2018, we meet Jack Adams, a former soldier living on a remote ranch with daughter, Laura, in a reluctant reunion with old friends, namely Alex Biggs, an ex-soldier with a billionaire fortune and a relentless obsession with space travel. That infatuation reveals itself to be something much more tainted following an armed attack on Jack's home, and with deeper discoveries awaiting amid darker auspices that could grimly affect the universe.

Cutting through the fluff, even the trailer gives away one of the more interesting twists before anyone beyond early screenings has seen the film, and depending on your tastes, whether or not that turns out to be a bad thing is entirely up to you, the viewer. It's when the film first starts that you're almost guaranteed that Akbar's efforts are at narrative sci-fi and fantasy are much more of a chore than preferred.

Astro doesn't really get all that interesting until fifteen minutes in with the entry of actor Michael Pare in the mix as he plays another old friend of Adams', and conveniently, an employee who works at Biggs' firm. Even so, with Pare joining in and Daniels and actress Courtney Akbar leading the way, and actor Marshal Hilton emerging as our billionaire antagonist, Astro remains almost as flat as when it first starts out. Orson Chaplain lays the groundwork for a cringeworthy and risible addition to the cast as Biggs' perverted and creepy son, Charlie.

The first action sequence doesn't occur until about ten minutes later, courtesy of co-starring actress and veteran stuntwoman Spice Williams-Crosby who also serves as the film's stunt/fight coordinator with stuntman Billy Bussey assisting. It's enough to keep Daniels-fans hopeful and maybe even a little stimulated, although as ancillary as fight action is to a Gary Daniels film, you'll seldom see the longtime action star in his element as you're left waiting at least a little over an hour before the obligatory fight finale. And even then, you're left wondering if it was worth being so patient.

Apart from the film's intro, the story spans five days with several flashback by about thirty in which Akbar showcases the very origins of Biggs' idée fixe. Actress Max Wasa and actor Louis Mandylor may their way in as Vivan and Victor, alien diplomats colluding with Biggs in a long-kept secrecy to help each other achieve their own goals.

Largely culminating the remainder of the film is an epic sci-fi family drama that eventually brings Adams together with his son, Mehta (Luke Crosby), born from a highly evolved species that was "created" and otherwise exists from another dimension. It's a moment in the film that might have been more compelling if it didn't feel as campy and contrived as the rest of the film does in constructing a film worthy of rather harnessing more Daniels' dramatic chops.

There's quite a bit of intrigue to go on in a concept as promising as what Astro shares. Much of it is ado in which we see the story unfold of a younger Alexander and his dealings with Victor and Vivian. Mandylor is easily a better actor among several others among the cast.

Unfortunately, it does nothing to salvage Astro in its multiple missteps, leaving viewers exerting themselves through a number of stumbling visual effects, fight action far too little, and acting performances that often bode more mechanical preferred. It helps even less that these are all worsened by an exhaustive script that weighs the film as an over-extended chore that takes itself way too seriously and completely forgets to be fun in the long haul.

Akbar's Astro is far from the great franchise-worthy feature film he might have wanted it to be, and even farther from fun. It's more hyperbole with a dash of cinematic allure and with Gary Daniels front and center and with almost nothing to show for it, plainly and simply, this movie is flat-out boring. Should this film be the standard bearer for sci-fi film franchise proliferation, then needless to say, you'll sooner find me on Indiegogo crowdfunding my own billionaire space enterprise in hopes of leaving this planet.

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