Somehow Hollywood continues to search for different outlets in conveying young love at the box office. Sure, the goal is always the same in terms of tapping into the youth market by promoting yet another transparent teen weepie but, this time, among the planetary stars. Hey, youngsters need catering at the movie theaters as well, right? However, one is not so convinced that the Young Adults (YA) genre is convincingly elevated by a flimsy frontier Sci-Fi romancer among the Clearasil crowd. Hence, ‘The Space Between Us’ fits the bill as a scattershot and schmaltzy pimple-faced love story that has all the emotional stability of moondust in front of a heavy duty oscillating fan.
Writer-director Peter Chelsom (‘Funny Bones’, ‘Serendipity’) and fellow screenwriters Allan Loeb and Tinker Lindsay delve into the conventional cliches of a lame star-crossed lovers theme that wreaks of saccharine-coated simplicity wrapped in scientific triteness. The awkward mixture of lightweight Sci-Fi drama, pandering gooey-eyed overtures toward teenage girls still nostalgically embracing their ‘Twilight’ fixation and space-age elements as filler exploration makes for a paper-cutter potency that creates unwanted space between us or any other species watching this cosmic claptrap. Give Chelsom some credit, at least his young protagonists are not another incarnation of obligatory hairy werewolves or fanged vampires, right?
The adolescent pen pals in ‘The Space Between Us’ are truly from different worlds, although this does not stop these particular kids from bonding deeply. Advanced academic in sixteen year-old Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is having a time of his life in corresponding with the edgy Tulsa (Britt Robertson) in the chat rooms. Whereas Gardner is a whiz in robotics and comes from prestigious stock (his late mother was a pioneering astronaut), his object of affection, Tulsa, is a motorcycle-loving wild child that had bounced around in the foster care system. The glaring differences between the unlikely young couple is that the scientifically gifted Gardner is located on Mars and Tulsa is a gritty gal living on Earth in the state of Colorado. Geez…talking about long distant relationships, huh?
Poor Gardner has always entertained the thought of traveling to Earth, the home planet of his deceased explorer mother who died giving birth to him during her mission to colonise Mars. So now there is more of an incentive for Gardner to yearn for visiting Earth now that his curiosity and fascination with Tulsa has heightened. At this point, all Martian Gardner has going for him socially is his guardian/’second’ mother in astronaut/scientist Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino) and his robotic pal he built to provide him companionship. The cruel reality for Gardner not being able to take a trip to Earth has something to do with his sensitive Martian-bred bodily functioning not being able to withstand the atmospheric gravity settings on our planet (huh…is he not half-Earthling?). All Gardner wants to do is come to terms with connecting to the planet Earth and finding some self-discovery about himself and self-fulfillment with his Colorado-based crush in the leather-clad Tulsa.
Of course, the film figures out, in convoluted fashion no doubt, how to place the inquisitive Gardner on Earth-related soil through the far-fetched means of a billionaire Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) funding the experimentation and expedition of the Red Planet-raised tyke whose dream of reaching the planet that houses his unknown father and his precious Tulsa. Soon, the inevitability of Gardner meeting up with his dreamgirl comes true as the teenage twosome take off and find liberation in each other’s company as the authorities are hot on their trail. Look out Romeo and Juliet…you have a cheesy carbon copy coupling seeking to steal your familiar thunder.
‘The Space Between Us’ produces more sappy substance than a row of Vermont trees. The fish-out-of-water routine that Butterfield’s Gardner undergoes when reaching Earth is mechanically clumsy and predictable. Butterfield does what he can to portray Gardner as an alien just not from another planet but from his own skin and this notion is philosophically ambitious to pull off for an interstellar teen tear-jerker that has all the complexity of a sofa cushion. Robertson’s Tulsa is the typical rebellious chick but her and Butterfield’s Gardner become tiresome as they engage in manufactured chase scenes, teen-angst lovey-dovey lameness and the dragged-out space travel drivel that beleaguers this simplistic SF yarn.
The results in ‘The Space Between Us’ is alarming more than charming because once the payoff is realised where Gardner and Tulsa draw energy from each other’s worldly vibes as they cuddle in zero gravity one will be left wondering where the next asteroid is coming to act as the needed wrecking ball to obliterate this toothless sci-fi saga aimed at the indiscriminate teen targets.
The Space Between Us (2017)
STARRING: Asa Butterfield, Brit Robertson, Gary Oldman, Gina Gugino, Janet Montgomery, Trey Tucker, Scott Takeda, Adande ‘Swoozie’ Thorne and Sarah Minnich
DIRECTED BY: Peter Chelsom
WRITTEN BY: Peter Chelsom, Tinker Lindsay Allan Loeb
MPAA Rating: PG-13
GENRE: Action & Adventure/Science Fiction/Fantasy & Romance
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2017