‘The Space Between Us’
Director:
Peter Chelsom
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Sweet, earnest and kind of lame, “The Space Between Us” is a sci-fi/road movie/coming of age saga/love story that’s also sometimes a fish-out-of-water comedy. It tries so hard, melding so many genres, offering a rare (mostly) positive look at the near-future in the age of “Black Mirror,” that you want to hug it and not tell it what you really think. You can say it’s not even the same universe of embarrassment as “Collateral Beauty,” the last film written by its author, Allen Loeb. You can commend it for including some hard science that sounds like it’s probably right. You can say it was nice to see Asa Butterfield, a talented but up till now terribly serious actor, cut loose here and there, even though, as in “Hugo,” he’s an orphan.

The complicated set-up goes like this: There’s a mission to Mars. One of the astronauts is a woman. She accidentally got knocked up before take-off. She delivers the baby en route, in space. Mom dies in childbirth. The now-teen boy (Butterfield) can’t go to earth, because a lack of gravity causes slight mutations in newborns (though Neil deGrasse Tyson should weigh in). He can never, ever, ever set foot on Earth, or he will die. Except he’s allowed to visit anyway, because he really wants to go. Once here, he's immediately deported — joke. But he does run away from his adult supervisors, even though, again, he will die.

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Even with the big science words and believably two-years-from-now tech (pending on whatever Trump/Bannon does to the world, natch), this isn’t a very smart movie. It’s not based on a YA novel, which is the most surprising thing about it. But it does have a vaguely pleasant “Starman”-knock-off vibe. Butterfield’s Gardner winds up lighting off with the oddly-named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a tough girl out of an ’80s teen movie, who rides a motorcycle and has a drunken cropduster dad. Gardner wants to find the biological father he never met. It begins to look like a suicide mission, which he’s apparently sticking to even after he falls in love and has PG-13 sleeping bag sex overlooking the Grand Canyon.

There we go again: Picking this genial, not unendurable movie apart. It’s enjoyable in its early stretches, when Gardner proves as confused about human interaction as “Being There”’s Chauncey Gardner (after whom he’s apparently named). He doesn’t get sarcasm, takes things literally and, thanks to the disparity between Mars and Earth, walks funny, like “Kids in the Hall”’s Mr. Heavyfoot. Butterfield is very affable, even though it may not make sense that Gardner is this thick about human interaction, having met Tulsa online and had a long friendship with her over chatrooms (where they can see each other but only type, not speak, which why?).

Ok, screw it: “The Space Between Us” doesn’t do much with a potentially imaginative premise, and logically it only makes slightly more sense than Loeb’s “Collateral Beauty.” Gary Oldman, as a NASA big wig, is depressingly laughable — a whiny, shouty mess who flails his arms and shouts himself hoarse and at what point screams at someone, “You had one job!” as though it were Lear. None of these are deal-breakers in and of themselves, but the sins add up, and the movie is rarely more than “nice.” We hope this won’t dissuade studios from funding future movies that are technically sci-fi but are grounded in reality, even a reality where the characters act irrationally or in defiance of basic sense. But maybe not that last part.

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