Ben Mezrich has a knack for writing books that become movies with unlikeable protagonists. “The Accidental Billionaires,” about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, was turned into “The Social Network.” “Bringing Down the House,” the story of 6 M.I.T. students who made a killing in Las Vegas, was filmed as “21.”
His new book, “Sex on the Moon,” introduces Thad Roberts, who, at age 25, stole a safe full of moon rocks from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration while he was an intern there in 2002.
Mezrich wastes no time with preliminaries; he opens the book with a well-paced getaway scene which ends with the perfect tagline for this movie-to-be, already optioned by Sony.
“He had promised to give (his girlfriend) the moon. The only difference was, Thad Roberts was the first man who was actually going to keep that promise.”
It sounds nice, but Roberts actually started planning the theft before he even met fellow intern Rebecca. Mezrich is leading the reader on, insisting there’s a scintillating romantic adventure within this sordid tale.
It really begins when Roberts hears that as soon as a moon rock is taken out of NASA’s pristine, high-security vault -- to be used in experiments or displayed at a lecture -- it’s deemed trash. An existential crisis ensues, and Roberts decides he’ll be helping the whole world if he removes this “trash” and sells it to fund his own research.
Mezrich does what he can to pump up his story, building suspense as he takes you much too slowly through Roberts’s life. His strict Mormon parents kick him out of the house for having pre-marital sex. He marries the woman with whom he transgressed, joins the intern program at NASA, meets Rebecca and starts cheating on his wife, then steals a safe full of moon rocks.
To top it all off, when Roberts tries to sell the rocks, an FBI sting ends his dreams of wealth and power. After seven years in jail teaching physics, Roberts reached out to Mezrich and pitched him the idea of writing his life story.
NASA’s intern program is sure to get a boost in applicants since Roberts is surrounded by incredibly attractive people there. It’s hard to tell if Roberts is lying to make himself look cooler, or if Mezrich is just trying to make it easier to turn his book into a film full of Hollywood beauties.
The heist itself occurs a little more than two-thirds of the way in, and consists of Roberts, Rebecca and another young woman simply walking into NASA, grabbing the safe, loading it into a car and driving back to a motel. By this time, I was so sick of Roberts’s hypocrisy, adultery and pompous attitude that I couldn’t wait until he got caught.
Mezrich has roped the audience in with his catchy title and misleading catch-phrase, as if this were anything but another cash cow. My advice: Wait for the film.
(Jacob Henkoff writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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