Hot Take: Another movie where Asa Butterfield’s performance is better than the movie he’s in.
A few days ago, I reviewed xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. The secret to enjoying it, in my opinion, was to watch it without thinking. That’s easy to do with an action film. The same approach can be taken for The Space Between Us. The only difference is, while it’s easy to sell the idea of watching a Vin Diesel action flick without putting your brain into third gear, it’s a little harder to do the same watching a Sci-Fi drama featuring a “teen” romance that gets a little racy (don’t worry, though, the actors playing the teens are 19 and 27, so it’s not as inappropriate as it feels) and enough bad science to make the Trump administration give a standing ovation.
While I didn’t hate The Space Between Us (and you’re going to think I did after reading this review), it’s hard to be enthusiastic about it. It’s unfair to criticize movies that don’t resonate strongly by saying they are unoriginal or bad copies of better films. Most films these days are unoriginal and there’s almost always something better. However, there’s a difference having an unoriginal premise or ripping off a few things from better movies and what happens with The Space Between Us. The main characters — Gardner (Asa Butterfield), a boy who was born on Mars in secrecy and gets surgically enhanced enough to come to Earth and Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a foster kid with trust issues and an absentee foster parent — are a Molotov cocktail of other films. There’s a little bit of Rebel Without A Cause in Tulsa. There’s a little bit of E.T., Big and Starman in Gardner. Let’s sum up some of the tired clichés. Gardner’s mom died in child birth on Mars and an Astronaut Kendra (Carla Gugino) has assumed the role of parent. Gardner knows it. She knows it. The pair dance around the issue frequently and every time Gardner gets moody he makes sure to remind Kendra that she isn’t his mother. Tulsa walks in on her drunk foster dad who should be at work. Being ultra-responsible, she drags him out of his alcohol-induced sleep and gets him to his crop dusting plane.
When we’re not being served up cliché scenes, our teen couple is launching cheesy lines at a frenetic pace. Before Gardner descends from Mars to Earth, he doesn’t tell Tulsa (he’s connected with Tulsa via the Internet from Mars because Mars has great Wi-Fi, I guess?) he’ll be missing in action for a few months. She’s so upset when they meet for the first time, she slaps him and accuses him of “ghosting” her. Of course, like us, Gardner is unfamiliar to Tulsa’s super hip lingo and she has to explain what “ghosting” someone is. The more she explains to Gardner, his “Aww, shucks” approach disarms her. More cheesy dialogue ensues throughout. It’s as if someone thought The Fault In Our Stars could have been better if only the teens weren’t so damn intelligent and didn’t speak so eloquently.
There’s Gary Oldman, too. I’m not really sure what happened with one of my favorite actors of the ’90s and ’00s. Last year, we were treated to Oldman’s awful performance in Criminal where his character was forced to scream inexplicably throughout the film. Well, maybe it’s just a Gary Oldman thing because as Nathaniel Shepherd, the brain child behind the colonization of Mars (to save humanity, of course!), he screams inexplicably and frequently throughout the movie.
Inexplicably, despite it’s massive flaws. There’s something endearing about the movie, though. It doesn’t make it good enough to recommend but it doesn’t fail hard enough to make it to the avoid list, either. Maybe it’s Butterfield’s consistent commitment to whatever role he is tasked with playing. He continues to be one of the more believable young actors currently in heavy rotation and as cheesy as some of the lines and sequences are, you occasionally buy what he’s selling. It’s impossible to buy Robertson as a teen (she’s a very young 27 but not 16 years young) but she sells the budding romance between the two enough to keep it interesting. The token adults even seem genuinely interested even if Oldman screams and Gugino is saddled with the pseudo-parent role that seems to always pop up in a movie about a teen whose lost their parent.
The biggest reason it’s impossible to recommend this film is because despite a great premise about a boy who only knows Mars and all of the things the film could possibly do, the film uses the teen romance as a crutch and relegates the Mars plotline to mere plot advancement which is a huge miss. It’s easily the most interesting aspect of the movie but once he lands on Earth, the movie focuses so much on runaway teens in love, you realize the whole Mars angle could have been replaced with an actual rare illness or some other explainable reason Gardner has been isolated from Earth for so long. Then again, if they did something like that, you lose the catchy title.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
The young actor grabs roles in movies that are either not good or never quite as good as his performance. Two years ago, it was A Brilliant Young Mind which was actually pretty good but featured a great performance by Butterfield. Last year’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a mediocre film but so was his performance. In this film, his performance is fitting and carries the movie to mediocrity, at least.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Fault In Our Mars
This feels like a dying teen romance flea flicker to use a football analogy. Mars is a mere end to justify the means at which this couple meets. It doesn’t really work all that well and there’s this interest in what the heck is going on on Mars and it’s an itch that never really gets scratched.
- Wait… Did They Sneak In Another YA Movie?
The colonization of Mars is to save humanity from itself because, well, we went and screwed up the environment, don’t you know! So, this is like the “Slow Jam” edition of a YA movie.
- The Return of Screaming Oldman
Why does Gary Oldman keep screaming at us?