It’s the far-flung future, baby! Still, according to our narrator, real-life NASA public affairs announcer Colonel John “Shorty” Powers, things haven’t changed that much since the Sixties. People dress the same and drive the same cars, while the USA and the Soviet Union (remember them?) are still at each other’s throats. Their latest spat concerns the Moonbase where sex-starved American astronauts are going crazy trying to grope busty cosmonaut Anna Soblova (Anita Ekberg, of La Dolce Vita (1960) fame). Hoping to stave off any future embarrassments, space mission bigwig Harold Quonset (Robert Morley) decides to replace the moon station duo with a husband-and-wife team. Unfortunately, the chosen candidates: newlyweds Peggy (Linda Harrison, Nova in Planet of the Apes (1968)) and Ted (James Brolin, from Westworld (1973)) are squabbling within minutes of marriage!
Quonset is forced to send in Peter Mattemore (Jerry Lewis), the most inept and cowardly astro-nut in the space programme, and pair him with perky astrophysicist Eileen Forbes (Connie Stevens). Eileen isn’t too crazy about hooking up with the womanizing Mattemore, but agrees to their sham marriage so she can rocket to the moon. After keeping Eileen safe from the maniacally randy Schmidlap (Howard Morris) and Hoffman (Dennis Weaver - yup, McCloud in space!) till they board the next rocket home, Mattemore cops an eyeful of voluptuous Anna in a swimsuit and go-go boots and meets her boisterous boyfriend Igor Valklienokov (Dick Shawn, LSD in The Producers (1968)). Space age tedium ensues…
Kicking off with cartoon credits and a groovy theme song by Gary Lewis and the Playboys (a band fronted by Jerry’s real-life son), Way… Way Out swiftly squanders its space race premise and settles into a mind-numbingly dull suburban sitcom on the moon. The effect is tantamount to watching an episode of I Love Lucy produced by Gerry Anderson. It’s a very expensive looking production compared to other movies from this period in Jerry Lewis’ career. Filmed in lavish Cinemascope that renders the attractive special effects, extravagant costumes and pretty incredible sets an eye-popping experience when seen on a large screen.
Gordon Douglas was no stranger to science fiction, having helmed the cult classic Them! (1954) and with the oddball Skulduggery (1970) in his future. The former child actor also had a couple of Rat Pack comedies, Elvis Presley movies and Our Gang shorts to his credit, along with an engagingly silly Bob Hope vehicle, Call Me Bwana (1963) that also featured Anita Ekberg. Yet Douglas’ ability to deliver a slick, attractive package cannot disguise the aimlessness of its narrative. The film takes an incredibly cynical view of marital relations and gender politics (“What is marriage, anyhow? A half hour a day at worst!”), with men forever conspiring to trick women into bed and women always scheming to “trap” them in wedlock.
As in many of his later efforts, Jerry ditches his innocent man-child persona and plays a womaniser. A mostly charmless figure, Mattemore mostly mopes on the sidelines and lets others handle the laughs. These include Brian Keith in his cameo as barking mad General “Howling Bull” Hallenby, an hilarious, gap-toothed Dennis Weaver, and the sprightly Connie Stevens - poised to make her debut as writer-director with Saving Grace (2009) starring Penelope Ann Miller and Michael Biehn. Stevens was one of Jerry’s brightest co-stars, in Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958), and here occasionally rouses him back to form. Yet, though it flirts with Cold War satire as dumb Mattemore mistakenly thinks his Russian friends are plotting a nuclear strike (“You’re a woman, you wouldn’t understand. You haven’t got a military mind”), the plot stubbornly refuses to go anywhere.
Watch mostly for the spectacular production design and some novel insights into what Sixties filmmakers thought television would be like in the future: current affairs shows still grappling with the thorny issue of civil rights, re-runs of Frankenstein (1931) or old westerns, and Richard Nixon as a political pundit.