As Stan Laurel once declared in Sons of the Desert, “Life’s not short enough.” The Space Between Us is a Disney Channel heart-beater between teens masquerading as a science fiction epic, hitting all the well-worn clichés so adamantly than a viewer who has lived through all this before longs for a short life span.
Asa Butterfield, of the luminous blue eyes, who previously graced such films as Hugo, The Boy In the Striped Pajamas , and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is Gardner Elliot, the love child of a mysterious father and a woman traveling to Mars as part of the first six man (five men, one woman) team sent to colonize Mars. Perhaps due to cut backs, NASA has no quality control staff to know that the sole woman astronaut is pregnant. Before you can say, “Blast off,” the woman goes into labor and gives birth to a bouncing baby boy, then conveniently dies. Watching all this from his limo on earth is the brains behind the Martian expedition, Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), an aging hipster who promotes the Mars mission in a TED Talk and then introduces the crew before they take off to a media crowd like Republican candidates at a presidential debate. But after watching the death of the mother on Mars, Shepherd drops out of the space program and goes missing.
After a head spinning title, “16 YEARS LATER” we are back on Mars and Gardner has grown into a petulant teen. He is watched over by the motherly Kendra (Carla Gugino) but not too well since Gardner is illicitly video chatting with a surly earthling teen, Tulsa (Britt Robertson) and sneaking out of the space station to visit his mother’s grave. Gardner is still a state secret but his obsessive desire to get to earth and to find his father convinces NASA to let him travel there. However, since he was born on Mars his bone mass must be braced up for the trip. Once on earth, he is kept is isolation (“Same bubble, different planet”) but sneaks out to find Tulsa and they go on a road trip to search for his father. Love rears its head in a shared sleeping bag along the way but Shepherd (who has suddenly re-materialized) and Kendra are in hot pursuit eager to catch him before his weak heart, not used to the Earth’s atmosphere, bursts.
Here is a story designed for a true hack director and Peter Chelsom is the man on the launching pad. For a brief time in the early 1990s, Chelsom was a promising director of note with two interesting and quirky films behind him – Hear My Song, with Ned Beatty as a famed and mysterious Irish tenor, and Funny Bones, with Jerry Lewis, Oliver Platt and a wondrous comic performance by Lee Evans. Then his career fell of the rails with The Mighty and Town and Country. After which Chelsom was washed cleaned and banalized with pap like Hannah Montana: The Movie. Still there was a slight hope that Chelsom might revisit his brief glory days of two decades ago with The Space Between Us. Alas, The Space Between Us lands with a thud.
Chelsom hits the marks with all the requisite scenes of hokum – weightless lovers’ kisses, Shepherd cracking the sound barrier to get Gardner’s heart pumping, and Tulsa’s The Voice power ballad while playing an electronic piano in a Walmart, and lines like “Rain washes everything clean” and “You made me human.” Perhaps it is poetic justice that Gardner’s heart gives out when Tulsa and Gardner are in the heart of Las Vegas (too bad that heart didn’t give out). It is all by the book and monotonous and the film is less Stranger In a Strange Land and more Girl Meets Other World.
At one point in The Space Between Us a character states, “Courage is fear that says its prayers.” Even though I’m praying, I doubt I’d have the courage to see this film again. As for The Space Between Us, the space is just a vacuum.