Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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Review: 'The Space Between Us' is remedial sci-fi romance at best

The Space Between Us is romantic science fiction with zero gravity and less to recommend. Its space is between its ears, a YA fantasy cribbed from alien fish-out-of-water flicks by the guy who wrote Collateral Beauty. Yeah, him again.

Allan Loeb can't blame this treacle on someone else's hormone-stoking novel. The Space Between Us is merely packaged like an adaptation, in which teenagers played by 20-somethings know it all. Backbone and sensitivity are gender-fluid and grownups just don't understand.

Loeb's screenplay is listlessly directed by once-promising Peter Chelsom (see 1995's Funny Bones and nothing after). His visions of life on Mars for a motherless child lack imagination; the lad's first visit to Earth is merely a road trip with nosebleeds.

Gardner Elliot didn't ask to be born on Mars. His mother was an astronaut on a colony expedition who broke a mission training rule about sex. "She behaved irresponsibly," one NASA tech says, like an out-of-touch guidance counselor; everything must be teen-relatable. Mom dies during childbirth, leaving baby Gardner in the care of Kendra (Carla Gugino), a scientist with no last name.

Gardner's birth is kept secret on strict orders for flimsy reasons from Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman). You can tell Shepherd is a man of purpose by his stride, and a cliche for doing it on yellow lines in the middle of a street at night. He and Kendra will regularly clash about Garner's future; myopic parents having their tiffs.

Sixteen years later, Gardner (emo du jour Asa Butterfield) is lonely except for a robot buddy, Centaur. Somehow he connects through social media with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a foster kid named for the city where she was abandoned. Chatting in real time over 34 million miles is this film's least problem with logic. Tulsa thinks Gardner lives in Texas, never noticing his friends list doesn't include anyone else.

Gardner convinces Shepherd and Kendra to let him take a field trip to Earth, realizing someone so accustomed to Mars' atmosphere could die. Love or at least surprising a virtual stranger after seven months incommunicado can't wait. Gardner gets a crash course in earthly ways but is never shown a photo of a horse, judging by his gobsmacked response.

Hardly a scene passes without something feeling off, or clumsily inserted for future reference. Tulsa's guardian is a drunken crop duster so she can fly to safety later; Gardner's only movie experience is Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, about an angel falling in love on Earth, get it?

Chelsom makes doubly sure that we do. The Space Between Us is nothing if not insistent upon spelling out everything. Gardner's heart can't handle Earth's atmosphere; no discriminating viewer could stomach his movie.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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