Frank Handrum, David Argue, Hayley Dallimore, Dasha Naumova, Chiara Costanza, Darren Casey, Duke Bannister, Jon Reep (voice)
Your mileage may vary, but if you are willing to turn on, tune in and drop out, than Astro Loco might just be the trip you need.
The year is 2074 and the transportation vessel, Araya, is making its way to Jupiter IV to expand an ongoing mining project. Funded by the Zorptec corporation, Araya’s crew have reached that point in any long journey where you hit the sweet spot between boredom and utter exasperation in your fellow human beings.
Melbourne director and writer Aaron McJames introduces the team as they play a board game of their own invention. Its rules are unknown to the audience and clearly cobbled together from other games the crew have long since grown tired of. It’s clear they are trying to make ends meet. Attempts to get everyone to partake in team-building exercises by Captain Odd (Frank Handrum) essentially end with him nearly crippling himself. Everyone is just done.
That includes the ship’s AI, Hetfield (Jon Reep, Eastbound and Down). Seeking meaning in a godless universe, Hetfield is preoccupied with the fact that he’s just not cut out to support the people under his care. Hell, he’s begun to burn breakfast.
Astro Loco mines a lot of its humour from here, as Hetfield turns to the humans for lessons in how to be human, including philosophy, meditation and doing good deeds. Even Araya’s onboard counsellor Lucien (David Argue) is trying his best to soothe Hetfield.
There are hints early in the narrative that all is not right with the mission. The first is a communication from earth suggesting some team members will have to be made redundant without actually advising how said employees will actually get back to Earth. Elsewhere, there’s a glowing meteor playing havoc with Hetfield, Captain Odd’s increasing insanity, and a vessel floating in space that looks just like the Araya.
Sharing DNA with John Carpenter’s Dark Star and the office politics of sitcom Red Dwarf, Astro Loco uses its modest budget to tell a story that feels less about solving problems and more about people trying to solve those problems. As the crew squabble amongst themselves and, in some cases, use cabin fever to climb the corporate ladder, their lack of awareness means that bigger, deathlier problems can sneak in through the back door.
McJames clearly loves his characters and wears his appreciation of sci-fi on his sleeve. His Araya is a lived-in and smelly ship, and you can feel the crew’s need to escape their current situation in every frame. Your mileage may vary, but if you are willing to turn on, tune in and drop out, than Astro Loco might just be the trip you need.