Originally set for release on July 29, 2016, The Space Between Us was then delayed until August 19. And then to December 16. And now it’s finally hitting theaters in February 2017. If you’re thinking that’s not a good sign, you’d be right. More often than not a studio only delays a film if they’re doubting the film’s ability to do well at the box office. Shuffling a film first out of summer, then out of the holiday movie season, and eventually into the vast wasteland of January/February is simply done to position it with the hopes that people will say, “Eh, there’s nothing else to do–let’s go watch that.”
Please don’t, at least when it comes to The Space Between Us.
While a small portion of the population (tween girls, to be specific) might find it somewhat bearable, there’s little here for anyone else to enjoy. In fact, it’s downright (unintentionally) laughable at times.
Take The Fault in Our Stars, sprinkle in some Nicholas Sparks-level cheese, and mix in a healthy dose of The Martian, and you’ll be in the ballpark. Overwrought with cavernous plot holes, ham-fisted acting, and the most cornball script in recent memory, it lands with such a deafening thud that you’ll wonder why (aside from all the fact that so much time and money had already been invested in it) that it’s even seeing the light of day at all.
The story begins in 2018 with a mission to Mars. The pilot, Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), has neglected to tell anyone (and the presumably endless barrage of pre-flight health checks failed to discover) that she is several months pregnant. Shortly after arriving on the red planet, she gives birth but dies in the process. Back home, the company behind the flight (which we’re clearly told is not NASA) has a major PR debacle to deal with…never mind the newborn baby who is now motherless and 250 million miles from Earth.
Fast-forward 16 years, and the child has grown up to into a smart, engineering-minded teen (Asa Butterfield) who has only known a dozen people his whole life and has never left Mars; because of the planet’s weaker gravity, his bones are too brittle, and his heart is oversized. He’s getting restless, though, and aside from his secret daily video chats with foster teen Tulsa (Britt Robertson), he has no idea of what life on Earth is like. Gardner’s fellow Mars astronaut Kendra (Carla Gugino), who we’re led to believe has raised him, senses his impatience and gets him on a flight back home.
Once there he escapes and makes his way to Tulsa, so the two of them can road trip to find the dad he’s never known. Along the way, of course, Gardner’s naivete has him amazed by simple things like horses and the ocean. It’s meant to be a cute, harmless subplot, but it ends up feeling as though we’re being hit over the head with the not-too-subtle message to enjoy the little things in life.
And that’s just one of the eyeroll-worthy tropes that pepper the script by Allan Loeb (Here Comes the Boom). The dangers of climate change, the wonder of young love, the importance of living fully every day, and the lost art of opening the car door for a lady are just a few of the others. The story itself honestly had some decent potential, but Loeb instead decided to let his melodramatic flag fly, and the result is a treacly mess that does little other than inspire yawns and, I’m sure, at least a few premature departures from the theater.
Butterfield, who shone brightly in 2011’s magical Hugo but hasn’t come close to matching that since, tries to rise above the dreck, but he can only do so much, especially when compared to the usually reliable Gary Oldman, whose performance as mission director Nathaniel Shepherd is so bombastic you’ll wonder if he lost a bet. Robertson and Gugino are the only ones who emerge unscathed, turning in solid, heartfelt work.
Director Peter Chelsom, whose most notable prior work is 2009’s Hannah Montana: The Movie, seems content to just coast along on the wonder of a teenager arriving on Earth for the first time, and he puts no effort whatsoever into the actual film, short-shrifting entire plot lines throughout. Plus, it’s set almost 20 years in the future, and we’re meant to believe that the only thing that has changed in all that time is that laptops are now see-through?
From the beginning straight through to the hilariously awful “twist ending”, The Space Between Us is nothing short of an unadulterated mess that deserves to be short into the stratosphere, solely so it can burn up on re-entry.