Film Review: The Space Between Us

This sci-fi action-adventure-romance has fine performances and real comic potential but is laden down with excess.
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For those who are into splashy intergalactic stories set in the not-too-distant future, where star-crossed young lovers on the run discover what it means to be truly human, The Space Between Us has it all and then some. It has the potential to be a box-office hit.

That’s not to say it’s a great film. In fact, it’s predictable, at moments tiresome, and way too long. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but the whole premise is absurd. To wit: On a groundbreaking mission to Mars, the lead astronaut, the only woman onboard, is pregnant and somehow nobody knows about it. This is space travel without the benefit of a pre-flight physical. Either that or NASA doctors are numbingly incompetent. As for her judgment, well, let’s just say it’s a tad impaired. In any case, the baby arrives and she dies giving childbirth on Mars.

Her son, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), the first human born on Mars, is secretly raised in an experimental colony and grows up lonely and weird. Flash forward 16 years: Now lonelier and weirder, he initiates an online romance with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a girl in Colorado, and concocts a scheme to travel across two solar systems to meet with her.

The main problem is that the Earth's gravity threatens his life. Gardner must race against time to connect with his true love, and then with Tulsa in tow he races away (on motorcycles, in cars and airplanes) from the enigmatic billionaire (Gary Oldman) who funded the original expedition to Mars and is battling demons of his own. On the lam, Gardner is nonetheless determined to uncover the facts surrounding his own birth while tracking down his unknown father before gravity’s ill effects kill him. (It doesn’t take too discerning a movie viewer to figure out Dad’s identity early on.)

Directed by Peter Chelsom from a script by Allen Loeb, the film has its amusing moments, thanks largely to Butterfield as the delightful, wide-eyed innocent alien who can discuss Edison and Tesla in the most sophisticated terms yet is utterly puzzled by commonplace objects and animals. He’s terrified of a horse.

Gardner’s communication skills are out there, literally and metaphorically. “I’m rocking this gravity thing,” he says at one point, meaning he’s beating its dire consequences. His body language is wonderfully comic too. In his attempt to be cool—or at least resemble a human being—he is stiff, angular and robotic-like in his movements. But most charmingly, he is so unschooled in social etiquette he just blurts out whatever he’s thinking whenever he’s thinking it and he startles (sometimes enrages) those around him, especially when he’s telling the truth. “I’m from Mars.”

The potential for a sweet, small comic film about romantic miscommunication and the alien’s (unwittingly refreshing) view of life on this planet is here, though its obfuscated by the far too many noisy and garish misadventures that are thrown in for no purpose, short of the filmmakers’ desire to forge a blockbuster. Here’s one: a tacked-on scene in Las Vegas with its Paris, Vienna, and New York facsimiles, signage blazing and thousands of people milling about as Tulsa exposes a rapidly deteriorating Gardner to the cities of the world that he will otherwise never see. The film also suffers from heavy-handed melodramatic moments accompanied by intense, pulsating music indicating what we’re supposed to be feeling.

Still, there are some worthwhile performances (besides Butterfield’s) that are fun to watch: Oldman as the tormented scientist-entrepreneur and Carla Gugino’s Kendra, the astronaut who never had children of her own but raised Gardner as if he were hers. Robertson is fine too, given the limitation of her clichéd character: the superficial tough girl belying vulnerability and an artistic bent. She composes sensitive songs.

But these stints cannot salvage the film’s excess and length. It’s two hours, but seems much longer.

Click here for cast and crew information.