You can’t honestly say that Linoleum fails to grab your attention from the start. Three minutes into the film, Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan) checks the mailbox in front of his house. A red sports car inexplicably falls from the sky right behind him. He runs over to see what happened, only to discover that the man inside the wreckage looks like a younger version of himself. With that intro, I buckled up for what I presumed would be a tantalizing mind-bender of a film. What actually followed was another 98 minutes of mounting frustration. Writer/director Colin West makes viewers jump through a lot of hoops to reach a finale that mistakes being labyrinthine with being meaningful.

Cameron lives in a small Ohio town and is the Bill Nye-esque host of a local TV astronomy show. His life is a mess. He’s about to be replaced on the show by Kent Armstrong (also Gaffigan), the guy from the car. His wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn) has filed for divorce. Daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) has begun hanging around with the new neighbor boy, Marc (Gabriel Rush), whose father is Kent. His own dad has dementia. The family is forced by authorities to leave their home temporarily after a Russian rocket crash lands in their backyard. Oh, and there’s a mysterious old lady who keeps following him around. These factors weigh on Cameron. Eventually, they spur him to try fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut by stealing the pieces of that rocket and launching himself into space from his garage.

As you can tell, a whole lot of disparate stuff is crammed in. Early on, it becomes clear that Linoleum is going to delay explaining the opening scene. We really want to know what happened, but the movie is more interested in adding additional new elements, like a Halloween party Nora organizes to show up a bully and a weird bit involving the uber-religious Kent’s literal flagellation of Marc (for no real reason because he seems like a good kid). We sit there wondering, “What does any of this have to do with anything else?”

That’s the movie in a nutshell. There’s not really a story being told. It’s a parlor trick. West keeps piling stuff on so that, in the last ten minutes, he can dazzle viewers by suddenly tying everything together. What he goes for is off-puttingly manipulative. Even worse, it’s filled with false meaning and artificial sentiment. While the ambition is certainly admirable, we would actually need to care about the individual components in order to care about how they connect. Not enough time is spent making that happen. The movie just lines up the dominoes so it can knock them over at the end.

Maybe you can guess what Linoleum is getting at. Without giving anything away, this is the kind of picture that wants to achieve a smaller-scale, more intimate version of the twisty vibe movies like Interstellar and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind achieved so masterfully. However, it lacks the expert story construction they had. West’s attempt at profundity therefore comes off as shallow. And if you just want a tale about a guy trying to fulfill a dream of going to space, The Astronaut Farmer does it infinitesimally better.

The actors are fine, especially Gaffigan, who does a nice job in his dual role. He and the others are stuck in a movie that lacks the knowledge of how to turn its big ideas into something emotionally credible. It’s show-offy instead of substantive.

out of four

Linoleum is unrated, but contains adult language and some mature themes, including abuse. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.