Mark Reviews Movies

The Space Between Us


1  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Chelsom

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino, Gary Oldman, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery, Colin Egglesfield, the voice of Peter Chelsom

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief sensuality and language)

Running Time: 2:01

Release Date: 2/3/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 2, 2017

Allan Loeb's screenplay for The Space Between Us has a promising premise: A child who was born and raised on the first colony on Mars comes to Earth for the first time. This is the sort of setup that sends the mind racing. What will this boy, who has clearly learned at least some things about the planet that is home to the rest of his species, discover in the difference between learning about a thing and actually experiencing it? How will he acclimatize himself to a society that is exponentially larger than the one he has known, cramped up in a scientific research facility on his native planet.

It quickly becomes obvious that anticipating the exploration of such questions is futile. Loeb has written something that is more akin to a fable than an examination of the physical, psychological, and philosophical ramifications of the movie's premise. This approach would be fine, too, except that the movie doesn't even seem to have its heart into the concept of this story as a fable.

Loeb has three chief concerns with this story: an adolescent romance, a paternal mystery, and, perhaps most of all, an extended chase. All three elements are unconvincing.

The story opens in 2018, with Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), a pioneer of the space industry, giving a big speech about the forthcoming mission to Mars. The lead astronaut of the team is Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), and a few months into the trip, she discovers that she is pregnant. Shepherd decides to keep the pregnancy classified, lest the project's funders decide to back out of the project. This seems an illogical decision, since a space baby seems like something at which people would want to throw money, but I digress.

Sarah dies in childbirth, and Shepherd, maintaining his irrational verdict of keeping mum on the matter, decides that the child's existence will be classified. There is no way to get the baby boy to Earth, since his physiology, developed in zero-gravity, would not be able to withstand the increased gravity of the planet.

Sixteen years later, Gardner (Asa Butterfield) has grown into a curious and lonely teenager. He wants to learn about his parents, and he especially wants to meet Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a teenage girl in Colorado who has become his video-chat pal. The NASA director (BD Wong) in charge of the project and Kendra (Carla Gugino), an astronaut who has become a surrogate mother to the boy, decide that it's in Gardner's best interest to have an experimental surgery that would allow him to visit Earth.

Shortly after arriving, Gardner escapes quarantine and travels by bus to meet Tulsa. Meanwhile, Shepherd, Kendra, and the government are attempting to retrieve him.

The chase is the driving force of the plot, and it becomes fairly ludicrous in a short amount of time. Our plucky heroes steal at least three cars and one airplane over the course of the pursuit, with the plane having engine problems mid-flight and winding up exploded in a barn that must have been filled with fertilizer (The inadvertent punch line to the scene happens when Shepherd calls the wreckage an "eventuality"). At a certain point, Shepherd, whose wild manner gives away a major revelation pretty early (which raises the question why the movie isn't upfront with that detail from the beginning), and Kendra don't appear to have much of a plan for tracking Gardner. That results in a couple of shots of the duo running in no particular direction for no apparent reason.

The romance is lame. Loeb establishes that Gardner and Tulsa are diametrically opposing characters in terms of their attitudes about life, so we get a lot of scenes of the Martian boy being too honest and of Tulsa trying to maintain an aura of cynicism. The dialogue between the two is clumsy, not only because the screenplay makes certain to hammer home the developing romance but also because Loeb seems to imagine that the slang of the future will resemble that of five years ago.

Gardner is strangely written and portrayed, too. It's as if Loeb and director Peter Chelsom can't decide if the character is an intelligent but awkward kid who happens to be from Mars or if he's a complete idiot. His comprehension of Earth and its inhabitants is inconsistent, meaning that he freaks out at the sight of a horse but dismisses the appearance of a dog as completely normal.

It doesn't help that Loeb crosses the line from sincere to cornball without a trace of self-awareness (Here's a metaphor: The kid figuratively and literally has a big heart, which is his gift and is killing him). The whole of The Space Between Us is pretty silly, but the movie's specifics are just absurd.

Copyright 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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