As if the surfeit of YA weepies hadn’t proliferated enough, now it’s invading other planets. Men are from Mars and women are typecast in The Space Between Us, which may as well describe the void left by an absence of adequate filmmaking. Set in the not-too-distant-future, it imagines a world with private space travel, self-driving cars, and the ability to Skype between planets, yet teen slang and the products and prices at Sam’s Club haven’t changed a bit.
A blustering, floundering Gary Oldman plays Nathaniel Shepherd, the Richard Branson-esque head of a billion-dollar mission to colonize Mars that’s so incompetent it doesn’t bother to give its lead astronaut, Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), a cursory once-over before blastoff. Turns out she’s pregnant, and, upon arriving on the Red Planet, she dies while giving birth to her son, Gardner. An infant’s physiology wouldn’t survive a return space trip, and the longer Gardner develops in an artificial environment, the less likely his anatomy could re-adapt to Earth’s gravity. So Gardner remains on Mars, his existence kept secret to spare Nathaniel’s company and the mission from bad press and financial ruin.
Sixteen years later, Gardner (Asa Butterfield) lives among the thriving Martian settlement, including more than a dozen scientists and a supportive mother figure, Kendra (Carla Gugino). But Gardner is restless, spurred by a dated photo of his unnamed father and his regular interplanetary FaceTime with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a teenager from Colorado who believes Gardner is a sick kid confined to a Park Avenue penthouse.
One medical montage later, and Gardner’s ready to accompany Kendra to Earth, where Gardner promptly escapes and goes hunting for Tulsa. Tulsa is an orphan who's been bounced from one foster home to another, and she’s sick of people lyin’ and leavin’ her. So, she naturally takes a shine to this near-stranger who confesses he’s from Mars and needs to find his dad in California. We know Tulsa is no-nonsense because she’s spunky and wears jeans with boots—until it’s time for romance to blossom. Then she conspicuously slips on a powder blue sundress and starts crooning love ditties she wrote sometime between stealing cars and flying crop-dusters.
Gardner and Tulsa must outrun Nathaniel and Kendra’s inept pursuit, as well as Gardner’s ominous nosebleeds and enlarged heart. Along the journey, plot holes the size of lunar craters open up, including an ultimately pointless detour to find a Native American who married Gardner’s parents and the fact that a mere modicum of Internet sleuthing could have curtailed the entire California quest. Gardner is an alien who is understandably captivated by such everyday phenomena as rain, oceans, cars, and horses. Yet despite his constant human interaction since birth, his social skills upon arriving on Earth are akin to those of Mork from Ork.
But the real fault in our star system starts with the slipshod staging from director Peter Chelsom, whose last hit was Hannah Montana: The Movie. The special effects are the shoddiest this side of Spaceballs—in one zero-gravity scene, you can practically see the wires lifting the actors off the floor. Meanwhile, writer Allan Loeb follows up his excruciating screenplay for Collateral Beauty with a script highlighted by such lines as, “No matter how much I want Earth, Earth doesn’t want me.” Andrew Lockington’s score is as ponderous as the twist ending is predictable.
Call it Starboy, The Bubble Boy Who Fell to Earth, or Nicholas Sparks’s E.T. At one point, Gardner collapses on the Vegas Strip, overwhelmed by its garish inauthenticity. Viewing The Space Between Us elicits a similar reaction.