If Samuel Jackson is "da man," then Sam Rockwell is "da other man." From brooding killer to likable pervert to comedic galactic president, the chameleon-like yet inherently ironic actor slides between film genres and styles with an effortlessness that betrays his character-actor instincts. In Moon, directed by Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie, son of David), you get a double-dip of the unconventional actor's talents. 

Working from a script by Nathan Parker and a well-spent budget of $5 million, Jones taps into the panicky, paranoid sci-fi of the '70s to meditate on personal identity, corporate greed and the evolving relationship between man and machine. It's a refreshing thriller for the mind instead of the gut, using ideas rather than laser-blasts to entertain. 

It also doesn't quite hold together. Moon takes aim at so many interesting issues its plot sometimes forgets to dot its I's and cross its T's. Still, the movie is never pretentious and, at its heart, boasts an astonishingly compassionate performance by Rockwell. Though he probably won't be considered at Oscar time, the actor gracefully captures both the defeated melancholy and indomitable fire of the human spirit.

With its convincing throwback miniature model effects, brooding existential dread and tortuous plotting, there will be inevitable comparisons to Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running or Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stylistically, the shoe fits. But thematically, Moon is a lot less ambitious, opting for the modesty of a solid science-fiction short story or an extended Outer Limits episode rather than shooting for bold cultural or metaphorical statements.

For those whose patience is irreparably damaged by Michael Bay's cinematic ADD, Moon will seem frustratingly slow. For those who can appreciate its intelligence, empathy and lyricism, Jones's debut will impress with how much more "real" its modestly budgeted reality seems than a summer filled with $100 million blockbusters.

At the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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