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Altruistic astronauts seek alternate for Earth

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“Interstellar”

Good (2 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense action and brief profanity

Running time: 169 minutes

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and four of his pictures have made my annual Top Ten List, including “Memento,” “The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins” and “Insomnia.” However, I hard a hard time understanding exactly what was going on in “Inception,” an inscrutable mindbender that I found to be a little too hip for the room.

The same could be said about “Interstell­ar,” an over-plotted, post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a few too many layers for its own good, in this critic’s humble opinion. Clocking in at a patience-testing 169 minutes, the movie had me harking back to seven-time Oscar-winner Gravity, a similarly-themed outer space adventure which managed to resolve its loose ends in about half the time.

At the point of departure, we find the Earth devastated by drought and dust storms that have brought it to the brink of famine. With the planet almost uninhabitable, NASA decides that the last hope for humanity rests in finding another capable of supporting life.

To that end, the agency is mounting a mission, codenamed Lazarus in order to search for a place with a compatible environment. The reluctant hero is Coop (Matthew McConaughey), a man understandably torn about being coaxed out of retirement to captain the Spaceship Endurance.

On the one hand, the veteran test pilot is eager, since he never got a chance to experience a real spaceflight during his career. On the other hand, as a widowed dad, he hates the very idea of leaving behind and possibly orphaning his already motherless kids.

Sure, 15-year-old Tom (Timothee Chalamet) might be able to man-up, but daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is only 10 and proves particularly clingy when he informs her of his imminent travel plans. Her angry reaction is perfectly reasonable, given the blight on Earth and the odds of ever seeing her papa again.

But with his father-in-law’s (John Lithgow) blessing, Coop nevertheless opts to depart, which affords him an opportunity to belatedly pursue his lifelong dream. Joining him in that endeavor is a crew comprised of brainy scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway), astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and intergalactic cartographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), as well as a couple of very sophisticated robots (Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart).

After blastoff, they head for a distant wormhole near Saturn rumored to provide a portal to a parallel universe. At this juncture, the picture turns terribly talky, relying on pseudoscientific claptrap to explain every farfetched development from black holes to unusual gravitational pulls to time slowing down. Eventually, Endurance rendezvous with a NASA space station stranded on a remote planet where they rouse the sole survivor from a cryogenic sleep only to discover it’s Matt Damon. How cool is that?

I’m not too proud to admit I couldn’t follow the convoluted storyline anymore from about this point forward. At least the panoramic visuals remained absolutely breathtaking. Think, a remake of Gravity with a bunch of polysyllabic brainiacs borrowed from The Big Bang Theory.

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