Watching Interstellar's credits roll by after nearly three hours of gleefully geeky, labyrinthine plotting, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Sheldon Cooper listed as co-screenwriter. Yes, just when we thought we could wait no longer, director Christopher Nolan has supplied the world with another prolonged, at times nearly bewildering sci-fi adventure that will bear repeated viewings by viewers who are unemployed and have little else to do.
Surprisingly, the plot here is not as much the problem as Matthew McConaughey's mumbling. At times it as if he's auditioning for a dinner theater version of Brokeback Mountain. You can almost see him as Ennis Del Mar sobbing: "Why don't you just let me be? It's because of you, Jack, that I'm like this! I'm nothin'... I'm nowhere... Get the fuck off me! I can't stand being like this no more, Jack," while someone yells out, "Waitress, more ketchup!"
McConaughey aside, Interstellar's setup is comparatively simple. It's the future, and planet Earth is on its last legs. No one no longer cares about owning the latest iPhone or playing Candy Crush. Worse yet, engineers and deejays are unemployed. The great need is for farmers, but with dwindling crop yields from increasingly unyielding fields, massive sandstorms, plus a troubling prediction that oxygen is on the wane, what can any farmer accomplish?
It's former astronaut Cooper (McConaughey), a widower with two offspring, to the rescue. After coming upon a secluded complex housing what's left of NASA, a secretive organization now led by the avuncular Professor Brand (Michael Caine), he agrees to head a mission to save our planet. Cooper along with Brand's daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and two other scientists, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi), are to fly near Saturn, a two-year journey, where there is a black hole that might just have been provided by friendly aliens who want to safeguard mankind. Once through the black hole, there are three planets, one of which might be hospitable to humans. Can this crew complete this trek and procure a future for homo sapiens?
On paper you will care because the storyline is rather ingenious, and there is a truly superb ending. The problem is getting there. While the sets are often spectacular, a triumph of Nathan (The Dark Knight) Crowley's production design, especially shots of the frozen planet and the black hole shenanigans, the characters are flimsily fabricated, and several of the performances are right out of the Queen of Outer Space school of drama.
Anne Hathaway, especially, has moved on from Les Miserables to just plain miserable. It's as if she's forgotten how to act. It doesn't help that many of her Amelia's actions are incongruous for someone in her position, but that appears to a plot device that doesn't quite mesh with the proceedings.
As her sidekick, a bearded Bentley once again makes no impression on screen. When he meets his destiny, you'll shrug, completely forgetting he was ever in the film. Oyelowo fares only slightly better. And I could go on.
Only Ellen Burstyn and John Lithgow register in minute roles as does Mackenzie Foy as the younger version of Cooper's daughter, Murph. Jessica Chastain as the older Murph is also relatively fine as her dad's counterpart hero on Earth.
Once again, conceptually, Interstellar is seldom less than intriguing, particularly with its interplay between time and gravity. Nolan just can't forget that audiences have to care about the clever carryings-on by being enveloped by the characters onscreen. Enunciation is also all-important. As is not having Hans Zimmer's sometime oddball compositions overpowering the dialogue. Let's not even address the often graceless editing of scenes cutting between Earth and space, and the clichéd moments such as when Murph throws papers up in the air when she has a eureka moment.
Winding up, what could have been a brilliant movie -- and no doubt some will acclaim it so because to many, Nolan is an uncompromising cinematic god -- winds up as a nearly tedious entertainment with numerous moments of unrivaled glory. But maybe that's just "me in the corner... losing my religion."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified actor David Gyasi and his character in the film.