The methods by which The Space Between Us attempts to manipulate its audience range from merely ill-conceived to blatantly misguided. Here is a movie that features quite a thought-provoking premise. It features a teen-aged boy born on Mars after a breakthrough attempt to colonize the planet is interrupted by the pregnancy of its leading astronaut. She dies during childbirth, a fact that is covered up as the child's identity becomes classified. This, of course, sparks roughly a million questions, all of them worth asking: What are the ramifications of a human birth on a different planet for the argument that life cannot be sustained elsewhere? What would be the political fallout of covering up such a monumental event in human history? What happens when the boy comes of age, or does a birth on a planet that has none of Earth's social constructs have the protection of such a construct as adulthood?
Allen Loeb's screenplay answers none of these pressing matters of the mind, instead paying lip service to all of them in a single sequence that determines that, whatever happens, the System will win. Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield in a performance of unconvincing aloofness that constantly battles pragmatism) must remain lab rat for NASA, whose higher-ups (led by B.D. Wong's Chen) come across as detached emotionally from any other form of humanity than the kind of which they know, and that, the film reasons, is for the best. It's a cynical ploy with a defeatist attitude to get us to the schmaltzy, feel-good nonsense of a youthful romance and an extended chase predicated on the mystery of who Gardner's father is and how his son can find him. The proof of this is in how the screenplay contrives for Earthlings to see the boy as a complete fool.
He freaks out at the sight of a horse and its rider. He tries to drink from an eye-washing station and instead deluges himself with its showerhead. Sure, he can tell you exactly why Thomas Edison was just a poor man's Nikola Tesla, but he has not a single social skill, answering questions with a simple "ok" and thrusting his hand out to random passersby who side-eye him and reject the act of kindness. He walks funny, a side effect of Earth's gravity being heavier than Mars', so of course everyone must ogle his shuffling gait (That's quite an off-putting contrivance on Loeb's part). The joke is that Tulsa (Britt Robertson), the girl with whom he has been communicating over the Internet and begins an awkward romance, thinks all of this is amusingly weird. That makes her slightly better in the film's eyes, but it also gives her an unmistakable air of looking after a particularly quirky pet for most of her screen time.
The plot indeed surrounds Gardner's attempt to find his father on Earth with Tulsa's help and against the wishes of his surrogate mother Kendra (Carla Gugino) and Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman, for some reason), the scientist who led the fateful mission involving Gardner's mother. They don't believe in the Overwhelming Power of Love that binds Gardner to Tulsa, but director Peter Chelsom stages some flatfooted chase scenes, silly montages, and stretches of the young lovers gazing longingly into each other's eyes. The Space Between Us is a prime example of a filmmaker and screenwriter actively working against the thoughtful implications of their premise and simplifying everything to a lot of wheel-spinning (The film just barely passes the two-hour mark without earning it). Why focus on ambition when money is to be made?
Asa Butterfield (Gardner Elliot), Britt Robertson (Tulsa), Carla Gugino (Kendra), Gary Oldman (Nathaniel Shepherd), B.D. Wong (Chen), Janet Montgomery (Sarah Elliot), Colin Egglesfield (Sarah's Brother). Featuring the voice of Peter Chelsom (Centaur).
Directed by Peter Chelsom and written by Allen Loeb.
Rated PG-13 (brief sensuality, language).
Released on February 3, 2017.