It's hard to describe the excellence of The American Astronaut—so let me just point out that "excellent" comes from the Latin ex-, or "out from," and cellere, "rise high, tower," which is related to celsus "high, lofty, great," and also related to "hill," from the Proto-Indo-European kel-, which meant "to be elevated, to be prominent."

Superficially, the movie is a space-cowboy rock musical comedy featuring a band called the Billy Nayer Show, whose bandleader, Cory McAbee, wrote, directed, and starred in the movie. But the umbrella of that description is too broad, leaving room for the terrible and the hammy, and might make you imagine a sci-fi flick starring John Candy, with a soundtrack by Styx. The American Astronaut, by contrast, is excellent, gently surrealistic, and a little discomforting. The antagonist is a serial killer hunting for the protagonist, a smuggler who, at one point, trades a housecat for an embryonic girl. Its spaceships are quaint contraptions, as if imagined by Jules Verne, with bookshelves and nautical-looking dials and buttons and handles. Needless to say, it's filmed in black and white. There are seedy, smoky bars and grimy laborers, an intergalactic fruit thief nicknamed the Blueberry Pirate and a floating barn rigged into a space station by two silver miners from Nevada. The story follows Samuel Curtis (McAbee), who swaps the cat (named Monkeypuss) for the embryonic girl ("cloned" from the cell of Eddie the bartender) for a 16-year-old boy (figurehead of an all-male planet, because he once saw a woman's breast) for a cadaver held hostage on all-female Venus. When Curtis returns the dead man to his wealthy earth family, Curtis will get rich. Or that's the plan.

The American Astronaut is a thought experiment about a world without women, where the men—roughnecks, thugs, and a natty professor—embody an ideal of manliness that's alien to us now. They are taciturn, tough, and resourceful, but they are also passionate, if not always graceful, dancers. They sing to each other. They get jealous. They drink and smoke and play practical jokes. They are affectionate but not soft. They do not hug. Because there are no women to keep down, no feminine mystique threatening to compromise the parade of masculinity, the men in The American Astronaut, all of them 10 times rougher than any Alabama shitkicker, can hold a dance contest in a greasy bar fully confident that their manhood will remain intact. There is also a brilliantly awkward standup routine by actor Tom Aldredge, a great score by the Billy Nayer Show, and this chilling final line: "I stayed on Venus to help raise Bodysuit in the hopes that he would grow up to be a fine young man and I could kill him. But a boy seldom lives up to his father's expectations."

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The Billy Nayer Show will play at the Rendezvous Saturday, September 23, but will not be screening The American Astronaut. Nevertheless, now is an excellent time to rent the movie and get acquainted with the band before they unveil their next movie, which is currently in preproduction. It is about—what else?—werewolf hunters in the Midwest.