The American Astronaut
dir. Cory McAbee
Opens Fri Nov 16 at the Grand Illusion.

Confession: Ever since I caught this haunting curiosity at SIFF, I've had difficulty dating. Don't get me wrong, I've tried. But even while laughing politely as a perfectly nice boy tells a perfectly boring anecdote, some part of me is perpetually waiting for The American Astronaut to swoop out of the heavens to claim me as his own. The interplanetary rogue who stole my heart and twisted my brain like so much Silly Putty is Cory McAbee, who directs, sings, and stars as the title character, an amoral space-trader named Samuel Curtis.

McAbee created this parody of '50s Westerns and sci-fi flicks through the Sundance Film Lab. What a pitch meeting that must have been! "Okay, it's like this: A sexy space trader lands his rickety tin can at a dive bar to trade a cat for a tiny cloned female living in a box that he plans to take to the men-only planet of Jupiter. They will happily swap her for the Boy Who Has Seen a Woman's Breast. Oh, I forgot--it's also a musical!"

Part of my romantic attachment to the auteur of this oddity is my fetish for greasy, lanky, laconic antiheroes. I'm also awed by McAbee's ability to realize this demented vision for what appears to be about $12. It's shot in velvety black and white-hot white; McAbee drapes his cheapo sets in thick shadows that hide their failings while also skillfully conveying the sense that deep space is a lot like a lonely, dusty Bowery bar. And he has succeeded in cobbling together a cast who all miraculously seem to understand the strange universe they inhabit.

And the music is brilliantly nuts! A rubber-suited Curtis warbling "The Girl with the Vagina Made of Glass" to a pasture full of beautiful Southern belles as they zealously guard their mummified lover manages to come off like an inspired cross between Flash Gordon and Johnny Guitar. If I weren't worried about losing my true love to a legion of new fans, I'd call this one a must-see.