Friday, February 3, 2017

Maudlin Mediocrity Fills 'The Space Between Us'



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

Sometimes you see a movie and the only reaction you can really have is, "Hunh. So, that's what they came up with? They had money, and a good cast, and an interesting story, and they came up with...that?" And then you scratch your head, and you never think about the movie again.

I knew The Space Between Us was going to be rocky from the its opening scene, in which Gary Oldman gives a presentation to a black tie NASA gathering. He reads from a sheet of paper (!) about the colonization of Mars on a settlement called East Texas (!!). NASA astronauts are trotted onto stage, but kept inside a plastic box (!!!). The doors to the hanger this ridiculous event is happening in open, and their rocket ship is right outside (!!!!). The guests then run out in their gowns and tuxedos to get an up-close and personal look at the ship's launch (!!!!!).

In the next scene, as the ship makes its way to Mars, we learn lead astronaut Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) is pregnant. This turns out to be a major problem because the script requires it be. No, they can't just turn the mission around and let her have the baby on earth, are you crazy?! And no, they can't let the world know she's pregnant, are you insane?! And no, of course abortion isn't an option, are you nuts?! It takes place in 2018! It's Trump's America!

So, 15 minutes in, Sarah gives birth to a healthy boy then promptly dies, and NASA vows to keep the existence of her child a secret from the world.

Cut to SIXTEEN YEARS LATER, and that boy has grown up to be Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), a nerdy and sullen teenager on Mars. He spends his days on a laptop with a transparent screen (why do movies think in the future we'll all want screens that are harder to read than they already are?), hacking into various security systems so he can do normal teenager things like stealing dune buggies to go joy riding.

Gardner (I have no idea why he's named Gardner, but can only hope it's some kind of reference to Being There) wants to go to Earth for many reasons, the main one being that he's in love with a girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). They met in some kind of chat room (I guess chat rooms make a comeback in 2034?), though she thinks he's just a teenager with a weird disease that keeps him homebound in a Park Avenue apartment. (That he somehow knows what Park Avenue is but doesn't know what a horse looks like is just one of many, many mysteries the movie never bothers to address.)

Gardner's entrapment on Mars has something to do with his bones, his blood, and his heart all being incompatible with Earth's atmosphere and gravity. Until, suddenly, the crew figures out how to cover his bones with mesh or...something (they're never very clear about it, but the x-rays look cool), and Gardner can finally go on a mission to Earth...where he promptly escapes his quarantine because ain't nobody got time for that!

And if all that wasn't preposterous enough, the remainder of the movie involves Gardner and Tulsa on the run from NASA, as they search for Gardner's long lost father, so he can....say hi? Not really sure. But it all must happen before he drops dead; apparently bone mesh isn't the miracle cure they thought it would be.

Part of me has some fondness for the ultimately very stupid The Space Between Us, mainly because it reminded me just a little bit of some 1980's sci-fi favorites like The Last Starfighter and especially Starman. Asa Butterfield has some funny moments as a Martian embracing Earth life, and a better director might have tried to play up the comedy more. But Peter Chelsom, whose previous credits include Shall We Dance?, Serendipity, and Hannah Montana: The Movie keeps the movie firmly grounded in maudlin mediocrity.

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