120 min. | PG-13
Aiming for a star-crossed lovers story—something along the lines of The Fault in Our Planets—The Space Between Us is more a gaseous sphere than a celestial body. So bloated with preposterous happenings and ill-conceived narrative trappings, this film self-destructs upon exposure to Earth’s atmosphere.
The science is murky in this science-fiction teen romance, and the direction by Peter Chelsom (Hear My Song, Hector and the Search for Happiness) and screenplay by Allan Loeb (Collateral Beauty, one of the more preposterous films of 2016, note a common thread?) do nothing to help clarify facts as simple as what year it’s supposed to be at any point. Although most of the story is set at least 16 years in the future, everything on Earth looks exactly as it does in 2017—except the laptop cases are Lucite.
Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is a procreative mistake. He was born on Mars to a mother who was the ship’s captain on a mission to the planet, where an outpost called East Texas has been established by NASA and wealthy visionary Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman). Gardner’s mother discovers she’s with child two months into the flight and dies on Mars during childbirth.
If you thought NASA might require pregnancy tests of its astronauts or even consider abortion, you’re colder than the temperature on the Red Planet. The scientists’ reasoned solution is to bring the fetus to term and then keep the boy’s existence a secret from the world. Gardner must remain on Mars because his bones and heart could not withstand the atmospheric pressures of Earth.
Cut to 16 years later. Gardner is now a teen, who has been raised by astronaut and surrogate mother Kendra (Carla Gugino) and whose only companion is a robot. Gardner longs to go to Earth, where he has forged an online friendship with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a teenage girl living in Colorado. Hijacking a spaceship, Gardner fulfills his dream of becoming a kid who fell to Earth, and once there, escapes the medical ward to embark on a road trip to Colorado, and from there, he and the resourceful Tulsa engage in more road-tripping to find Gardner’s mystery father. (Anyone paying attention won’t have trouble figuring out who that man is.)
There’s a certain sweetness to this teen romance and Gardner’s naive fascination in the newly discovered wonders of Earth. But so much is too dopey, on both a scientific and emotional level.