"The Astronaut Farmer" is a surefire test of our ability to believe in anyone with a dream -- including a soft-spoken Texan who figures that if he points his homemade rocket in the right direction and juices it with enough fuel, he'll orbit the globe and get home in time for dinner.

It helps us considerably that the man in the spacesuit (a silvery "Buck Rogers"-style outfit that laces up like a set of granny boots) is Billy Bob Thornton, whose relaxed assurance can boost even the hokiest of roles. He's Charles Farmer, an aspiring astronaut who had to jettison his career because of a family crisis. But in the years since, he has been running a farm, rather ineptly, in Texas and dreaming of making it into space. As for the rocket -- well, who needs Houston? -- he has been building it himself in the barn.

Sure, it's the corniest of conceits, but "Astronaut" taps delightfully into one of our deepest cultural values: the one about the pursuit of happiness. And the movie's unpretentious lightheartedness, which echoes the old-fashioned, corn-fed lore of Frank Capra, or even "The Andy Griffith Show," makes it blissfully easy to sign on for this good-natured voyage.

Like "October Sky," the true story of a West Virginia boy who dreams of building rockets, and "Field of Dreams," the Kevin Costner baseball fable, "Astronaut Farmer" engenders audience goodwill with characters we care for.

-- Desson Thomson

The Astronaut FarmerPG, 105 minutes

Contains themes of domestic tension and a little collateral damage. Area theaters.