Story: Roy (Don Knotts) works on a spaceship, though it happens to be a simple amusement ride where he serves as operator to entertain the children who ride. He is a simple man with a simple life, no real plans perhaps, but he is mostly content with his lot in life. His parents aren’t quite so content, as much as they love having him around the house. Unknown to Roy, his father begins telling everyone his son is about to become an astronaut, which of course, confuses the ride operator. But as it turns out, his father signed him up to part of a space mission and in an odd series of events, Roy is accepted. But will he agree to go space, especially within his fear of heights?
Entertainment Value: Don Knotts as an astronaut. That’s pretty much you have to say in this case, to gauge potential interest and how likely someone is to have fun with The Reluctant Astronaut. If that concept appeals to you, you will probably have some laughs here, but it is not likely to win over those left cold by the premise. As you would expect, the tone is light and brisk, with Knotts thrust in one awkward situation after another. The narrative does that well enough, allowing the cast to show off their comedic skills, though of course, the humor is perhaps dated to some audiences. This means the writing can be corny and groan inducing at times, but that is part of the charm with this kind of upbeat, family friendly type comedic material. The end result is a silly, harmless picture that won’t interest everyone or leave much of an impression, but can be fun to watch. I’d recommend it as a rainy day watch to anyone who is interested in the premise.
The draw here is going to be Don Knotts for most potential viewers and this is a vehicle for his comedic talents, so his fans should be pleased. I think his scenes with Leslie Nielsen are highlights, but Knotts is up to his usual hijinks right from the jump here. He is supposed to be 35 here, but looks much older, much older even than his real age, which gave me a laugh. He plays a manchild thrust into a world he isn’t even remotely prepared for, but he is able to make the most of the comic opportunities. That means his over the top facial expressions, physical comedy, and back and forth dialogue banter are all on showcase here, which should delight his fans. I wouldn’t rate this as his funniest or best work, but his performance is right on par for his style and that is what this film was intended to do. In addition to Leslie Nielsen, the cast also includes Joan Freeman, Jesse White, and Jeanette Nolan.