IN Hollywood there is no such thing as being too early with Oscar hype. With that in mind, James Gray’s space adventure sailed into the Venice Film Festival in August trailing expectations that this would be the one that would win its star, Brad Pitt, a best actor award.

If statuettes were awarded on screen time alone, Pitt should start clearing a space in the cabinet now. Even for a picture from his own production company, there is a lot of Brad to go around in Ad Astra. While this is never a bad thing, it is not enough to lift the picture clear of the elements which drag it down. Ad Astra aims for the stars but proves more of a firework than a rocket blast.

Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, noted astronaut and son of legendary space pioneer Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Rumoured to have a pulse rate that has never gone above 80, Major Roy is the coolest of cucumbers who orders his life to have minimal distractions. As we see from the departure of his wife (Liv Tyler), Roy has been a touch too keen in compartmentalising his life, managing to tidy her right out the door.

Writer-director James Gray (We Own the Night, The Lost City of Z) makes the near future seem both workaday and exotic. Astronauts work high in the skies, in daylight, like oil rig workers. Commercial flights to the Moon are as glam as the Glasgow to Heathrow shuttle (though it does cost $125 for a blanket and pillow pack), and time spent on the Moon looks like life in any other city.

After a series of mysterious “power surges” cause catastrophes on Earth, Major Roy is assigned to investigate. The release of anti-matter is coming from Neptune, the planet Clifford McBride reached before disappearing, like Colonel Kurtz. Could daddy dearest still be alive, and if so what is he up to?

Gray manages to spring some surprises as Major Roy goes about his mission. These add some much needed pep to a film dominated by Pitt’s deliberately downbeat, verging on lugubrious, narration. The closer Major Roy comes to the truth the more he opens up, but this only puts the spotlight the film’s essential weakness: that for all the space trappings this is the overly familiar story of a man with daddy issues. In space no one can hear you yawn.

It would have helped if the female characters, Liv Tyler’s wife, Ruth Negga’s space station officer, played bigger roles instead of being mere handmaidens to more of Roy’s angst. As it is, this is the Brad and Tommy show, but mostly Brad, and a fine job he makes of this Hamlet in space. But Oscar worthy? That’s a reach too far.