The last film I caught from independent director Travis Ammons was the low budget shock-horror title The Cutting Room, which was reviewed here on Rogue Cinema a short time ago. While I didn’t throw lavish praise out there for the film, I thought that the director had a good concept and showed some promise. So, skipping forward to his most recent venture here, the question seems to be: is Travis Ammons catching up to his potential? I would have to say that this title seems to present a definite "yes" to that question. While The Great American Moon Rock Caper is still a film with its own flaws, it manages to present a compelling story (that purports to be based upon true events) with a lot of genuine laughs and some very strong performances.
The Great American Moon Rock Caper tells the story of four young twenty-somethings who know as little about crime as any one group of people could, and yet it shows their fast descent into the world of thievery and really dumb criminal actions. Tucker (Shawn Cook) is a young up and coming intern at NASA who has recently discovered love with another fellow intern, Stevie (Katrina Ellsworth). These two star-crossed lovers in turn set up Stevie’s best friend Mouse (Kristin Chaumont) with Dean (director Travis Ammons), who has the reputation of a bad boy but who is really just a slightly bizarre slacker. Due to their high clearance at NASA, the group soon concocts a plan to break in one night and steal a safe full of moon rocks. When they get the rocks, they then in turn plan to sell them over the internet. With a sure fire plan such as this one, what could go wrong?
In almost every technical sense this seems like a step up in quality for director Ammons. Although it isn’t the most beautifully shot piece of work I have ever seen, he does do a solid job in presenting his film this time around. There’s a lot of fluid camera work throughout and the post-production work gives it a certain amount of class. Ammons works with some split screen effects along the way as well as some digital trickery that certainly elevates the professionalism of the project to a much higher standard. Along with this technical prowess also comes a very talented cast of young people who acquit themselves very well. All of the actors involved seem to get the sort of humor intended for the project and their comedic timing is perfect during large ensemble scenes. I particularly liked Ammons himself who played Dean, obviously the big "attention grabbing" character, but Ammons doesn’t take his character all that serious or use it as an opportunity to chew scenery. Instead he simply adds a certain amount of charisma to the character that makes him really likable.
I mentioned that this wasn’t a perfect film though, and I did have a few instances throughout where I was left scratching my head. The character of Tucker, our obvious leading man, is unfortunately too sweet and sincere at times and we can’t help but question his motivations. In the beginning of the film he is ultimately prepared to risk everything in his life just to sneak these moon rock’s out of NASA, but has no interest in any sort of financial compensation. Why on earth would he sneak rocks out of NASA when they have all of the equipment and knowledge for him to test, prod and learn from said rocks? The love story that quickly develops between Tucker and Stevie is also slightly off-putting since it’s hard to imagine anyone falling so head over heels in love after only meeting for such a short amount of time. Even if you believe in immediate love, it’s still slightly hard to wrap your head around the type of love one would have to have in order to risk going to prison for.
A low budget title that has a lot of the working elements to vault it to a higher degree of success, The Great American Moon Rock Caper shows director Ammons stepping out with his best foot forward. It still isn’t close to being classic American cinema, but the progress is astounding. A solid effort and well worth checking out. You can read more about it at the official facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=56698778415