Fly Me to the Moon (2024) Review: A Feel-Good Space-Race Rom-Com Led By the Charismatic Pairing of Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum

Not to be confused with that similarly-titled Hong Kong film starring Sasha Chuk and Wu Kang-Ren, what got me interested in Fly Me to the Moon (believe it or not, it was originally intended for straight-to-streaming release on Apple TV+) is the on-screen pairing of Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum. The two previously appeared in Don Jon and Hail, Caesar! but it marks their first time sharing a scene together. And of course, the high-concept premise revolving around faking the Moon landing.

Set during the 1960s Space Race era between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the movie follows advertising executive Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson), who has a knack for thinking out of the box when comes to successful pitches. Her amazing talent attracts Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), a government agent who wants her to help NASA stage a fake moon landing simultaneously with the upcoming Apollo 11 launch. The reason? It was a contingency plan in case of the Apollo 11 failure because the U.S. government couldn’t afford to suffer another loss against the Soviet Union.

But her arrival at the Kennedy Space Center alongside her trusted assistant, Ruby (Anna Garcia) doesn’t sit well with Cole Davis (Channing Tatum), a NASA launch director who used to be an Air Force pilot. He’s in charge of the Apollo 11 launch and the last thing he needs is someone like Kelly coming here telling him what to do. And yet, Kelly remains persistent in getting the job done, going from promoting the Apollo 11 mission as well as three participating astronauts — Neil Armstrong (Nick Dillenburg), Buzz Aldrin (Colin Woodell) and Michael Collins (Christian Zuber) — to enlisting a commercial director, Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash) to shoot the fake moon landing.

Greg Berlanti, best known for his TV works in series from Everwood to Arrow, The Flash and Superman & Lois, isn’t just focused on the romantic-comedy tropes and the conspiracy angle surrounding the fake moon landing. These two combined elements are actually part of the bigger picture than what the marketing behind Fly Me to the Moon has led me to believe in the first place. It was actually a mix of everything, which explains the movie’s clunky and longer-than-expected 132-minute runtime. Berlanti, working from Rose Gilroy’s (daughter of Rene Russo and Dan Gilroy) first-time screenplay, also encompasses the historical drama of the 1960s Space Race and a few other subplots in between, one of which revolves around Cole’s guilt over the unfortunate deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts.

No doubt that juggling multiple story arcs can result in a bloated outcome and yet, amidst the different directions that Berlanti chooses to take over the course of the movie, Fly Me to the Moon surprisingly works well. Perhaps his extensive TV background does give him the added advantage of handling a few storylines effectively — for most parts of it — at once.

The story simply keeps me interested in its successful blend of historical and fictional stories of the Space Race era. And not to mention, Johansson and Tatum’s would-they-or-would-they-not-end-up-together at the end of the movie. Having them onboard adds a delightful charm to the movie. Their chemistry clicks from the moment they meet in a diner. Individually speaking, Johansson exudes sassy and spunky vibes to her radiant character as Kelly Jones. She pairs well with Tatum’s uptight and occasionally grumpy Cole Davis.

The movie also benefits from exceptional supporting characters, namely Woody Harrelson playing a shady government agent and Ray Romano as the NASA engineer. Then, there’s Jim Rash of TV’s Community, stealing the show each time he appears on the screen as the fussy commercial director Lance Vespertine, notably in many scenes involving him in charge of shooting the fake moon landing.

On the technical front, Berlanti and his crew got the feel and look right that captures the retro ’60s era with extra kudos to Shane Valentino’s opulent production design and Mary Zophres’ dazzling costumes.