The only surprise within director Peter Chelsom’s weepy sci-fi teen drama The Space Between Us is the fact that the movie isn’t based upon some bestselling young adult novel. What’s not surprising is that this film with its obvious dialogue and ridiculously implausible settings was scripted by Allan Loeb (from a story by Loeb, Stewart Schill and Richard Barton Lewis), the mind behind last year’s bewildering Collateral Beauty. The Space Between Us is a frustrating, boring experience to sit through as it moves without imagination in its sappy mixture of science fiction and dying teen romance. For every interesting aspect of The Space Between Us, the film takes the most generic and obvious route in one of the most tedious cinematic experiences to launch 2017.
Following the vision of the idealistic Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), NASA and Shepherd’s company Genesis is about to send a team of astronauts led by Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery) to establish the first colony on Mars. While en route to the red planet it discovered that Sarah is pregnant. Fearing a public relations nightmare, Nathaniel and Genesis Director Chen (B.D. Wong) agree to cover up the pregnancy. Things are further complicated when Sarah dies in childbirth. 16 years later, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) has been raised on the Mars colony by a rotating team of scientists, all of whom keep his existence a secret from the world happening on Earth. Kendra (Carla Gugino) has acted as a surrogate mother for the teen raised on Mars, offering life lessons amidst his growing teenage angst.
In secret, Gardner has been chatting online with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a rebellious teen in foster care that feels an outsider herself. At the request of Kendra who sees the growing restlessness of Gardner, it is agreed to allow the young man to travel to Earth after a series of operations that will help him survive on Earth. Shortly after his arrival, Gardner escapes the quarantine intended for his protection and travels to meet Tulsa, the two teens soon taking on an adventure to find Gardner’s father. Meanwhile, Kendra and Nathaniel are chasing the runaway teens as a medical condition threatens Gardner’s life. Of course, there are tears, kisses, and life lessons learned along the way set to tedious and innocuous pop rock.
The most interesting aspects of The Space Between Us come from moments such as young Gardner acclimating to the gravitational difference on Earth. Despite some of the film’s wretched dialogue, Asa Butterfield gives a rather strong performance, one that has the young actor employing a unique physicality with an awkward walk because of gravity and a charming naïveté from his sheltered upbringing. Whatever charms Butterfield brings to the film are often undermined by his romantic counterpart. I don’t want to put the blame for the irritating nature of Tulsa on the shoulders of Britt Robertson because it’s obvious that the character’s deficiencies are rooted in the awful script and bland direction that she’s subject to. Tulsa is a sassy, no nonsense character and this is conveyed by having the young actress deliver her lines at an accelerated rate. Each and every line the character is given has the feel of what a middle-aged man would think that hip teenagers would sound like.
Between the dialogue of The Space Between Us and the entirety of Collateral Beauty, one has to wonder whether screenwriter Allan Loeb has ever interacted with another human being. The dialogue throughout The Space Between Us is wretched and obvious, operating without wit or subtlety. Lines like “No matter how much I want Earth, Earth doesn’t want me,” inspires nothing but excessive eye-rolling throughout the course of the film’s solid two hours. As if the dreadful dialogue wasn’t enough, Loeb crams the movie with a series of ridiculous reveals that become increasingly absurd and trite, culminating with a tiresome reveal of Gardner’s father that inspires only fury from the viewer.
Director Peter Chelsom allows his direction to operate on the level of the subpar script. There’s no sense of pacing in the movie as it unfolds a leisurely pace that is deadly dull. When Gardner and Tulsa become fugitives, Chelsom does little to give the events even the slightest bit of tension. It becomes a weightless chase that is punctuated solely by unintentionally hilarious dialogue. There’s one unintentionally comical sequence when a plane just crashes into a barn and the barn explodes in a massive fireball for literally no reason at all. Later as the film becomes a race against time towards its conclusion, there’s just nothing in the way suspense or mystery. It’s just a generic teen romance that operates under the bizarre fetishism of dying teens. Then everything wraps up nicely with a series of pointless epilogues that just drag an already tedious film beyond any point of reason.
The rumbling of a man snoring filled the screening room 15 minutes into The Space Between Us. I can’t think of a more apt piece of criticism for this movie than the sound of that man snoring. The Space Between Us never gets moving and it’s more than obvious that it won’t ever get moving after those initial 15 minutes. This is a movie where I found myself wishing that each and every one of the characters met some grisly fate that would allow the credits to roll and myself to leave. I’m just jealous of that fellow who dozed off during The Space Between Us. Lord knows I certainly wanted to.
The Space Between Us
Some interesting ideas and a strong performance by Asa Butterfield are buried in The Space Between Us, as the film opts for an incredibly dull and generic teen romance punctuated with wretched dialogue, ridiculous reveals, and the bizarre fetishism of a dying teen lover.