“Orphan Black’s” Kristian Bruun is Damon, a man cut adrift from most of the things that kept him grounded. He’s an unemployed geologist whose former business partner always refers to his achievements in the past tense. “Once, you were an asset to the company.” He shares a home with his ex-wife (Meghan Heffern) and her new, obnoxious boyfriend who treats Damon like a lodger, not the actual owner of the house.
The only thing missing are track marks on his back from everyone walking all over him.
His life is stuck in low gear until he meets Phoebe (Cara Gee), an indie musician and recruiter for a new reality show. Called “Red Rover,” it’s part science experiment, part entertainment, backed by a billionaire who wants to send a manned capsule to Mars. For Damon, it seems like the perfect escape, a way to leave his earthbound problems behind.
“Red Rover” is a portrait of a no-hoper with limited prospects, gilded with a shiny rom com veneer. It’s Bruun’s central performance that keeps the story from becoming too maudlin or too farfetched. Even as he dreams of going to Mars, Bruun keeps Damon terrestrial. In his hands Damon’s aspirations don’t feel like a pipe dream but as a map for a way out of a directionless life. As he slowly regains his mojo it becomes clear that whether his endgame is a new home on Mars or a new life in a new town with a new person, it’s all the same. Bruun humanizes and makes you root for a character who could have been easy to dismiss.
“Red Rover” is a quirky story that could have been overcome by its whimsy but is rescued by actors who make their characters more than caricatures of a man in mid-life crisis or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.