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"THE SPACE BETWEEN US"
(2017) (Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Drama: A human teenager born and raised on Mars must contend with his first trip to Earth and his desire to find his biological father.
PLOT:
In the near future, Gardner Elliot (ASA BUTTERFIELD) is a teenager who was born en route to Mars and has lived his entire life on that planet's surface in the small colony known as East Texas. With his astronaut mother, Sarah (JANET MONTGOMERY), having died during childbirth, Kendra Wyndham (CARLA GUGINO) has served as his unofficial mother on the planet, with his only friend there being a robot known as Centaur (voice of PETER CHELSOM).

He has a computer pen pal back on Earth, however, in the form of 17-year-old Tulsa (BRITT ROBERTSON) who's lived in a number of foster homes since the age of four. She doesn't realize Gardner is actually on Mars and he can't tell her due to secrecy regulations put into place by NASA official Nathaniel Shepherd (GARY OLDMAN) who shepherded the colonization but realized long ago that news of a boy born during the mission and then being raised on the distant planet could result in bad PR.

With Nathaniel now long gone from the agency, NASA official Tom Chen (B.D. WONG) believes it's time to bring the boy home, but not until surgical implants are inserted to reinforce his bones that would be brittle in Earth's gravity. With Kendra accompanying him, Gardner arrives back on Earth but quickly escapes from his quarantine. He does so not only to see the world he's never experienced, but also to find Tulsa in hopes that she can help him find the man he believes is his biological father. As he does so, Kendra and Nathaniel race to find the teen, knowing the dangers Earth's gravity will have on his health.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Considering it's been nearly 45 years since a human set foot on the moon, it's more than a little ambitious for anyone to think we'll have people -- government or civilian-based -- doing the same on Mars anytime soon.

After all, while our moon is relatively close (it took the Apollo crews around three days to get there), the Red Planet would require six months or so. And regardless of any scientific posturing, our Moon visits were mainly done to beat the Russians at the height of the Cold War. Yet, that hasn't stopped the likes of Elon Musk from stating his company could be sending people there in the 2020s, and that definitely hasn't stymied Hollywood from making movies about such travels.

Of course, such films usually present the travails and dangers of doing so, as evidenced most recently in 2015's superb "Uh-oh, what are we gonna do now?" sci-fi drama, "The Martian." In that film, NASA officials faced the conundrum of discovering that a previously believed dead astronaut (played by Matt Damon) was actually alive and what a PR disaster that was going to be.

Such officials face something somewhat similar in "The Space Between Us," this week's sci-fi drama that's been bounced around the release schedule so many times that you'd think it exists in some sort of low or no gravity world. But rather than death (or at least the initial belief thereof) being the issue, this one centers around birth.

Namely that the lead astronaut (Janet Montgomery) on a Mars colonization mission discovers that she's pregnant, eventually delivers the child, but then immediately dies thereafter from related complications. The NASA officials in charge (Gary Oldman and B.D. Wong) eventually agree that if word got out -- about that birth, the boy's subsequent rearing on Mars (with Carla Gugino playing his unofficial surrogate mother figure), and his inability to ever travel to Earth (due to zero gravity effects of his in utero development and later growth over the years -- it would be a PR disaster. So mum becomes the official word.

Flash-forward sixteen years and Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) is a smart kid, but one whose only friend is a robot and wonders about the mother he never knew and who his biological father might be back on Earth. His only contact back home is with a feisty 17-year-old (Britt Robertson, once again playing younger than her age) who's been bounced around from foster home to foster home and views Gardner as the only person she doesn't hate.

For starters, their millions of miles away connection seems far-fetched in that some astronaut in the now populated small Mars colony of "East Texas" (that makes no sense as a name) or NASA officials back on the third rock wouldn't have discovered the video transmissions and put a kibosh on them for fear of ruining said secret existence.

But it appears that screenwriter Allan Loeb believed that was necessary to give the boy an ally, travel companion, and fellow family finder sleuth once he does make the trip to Earth (after some surgical implants to strengthen his bones and such during a montage) and begin his search for his dear old pop.

The scribes and director Peter Chelsom want to make this a classic fish out of water (or, more accurately, extraterrestrial is new to Earth) sort of tale like Starman or E.T.), with young Gardner not only having to deal with gravity, but also the sights, sounds and ways of our planet (that he apparently never studied -- or at least absorbed -- via computers during his Martian rearing and schooling).

But the story transition just doesn't work, at least on any sort of interesting, engaging or sympathetic level beyond the basic and default settings of such a tale. Butterfield is marginally okay, but the transition from smart and resourceful teen on Mars to confounded boy on Earth isn't believable (yes, even with his medical condition supposedly coming into play).

Beyond being nearly a decade too old for the part, Robertson is decent as the girl who's had to grow up fast and rough, and Gugino is okay enough in an underwritten part. But it's a crime that Oldman is forced (or choose) to overact in a far too melodramatic of a way as the concerned official who tries to track down Gardner once the teen goes on the lam.

While I suppose there's some potential in the basic premise here -- although not to the tune of what was present and worked so well in "The Martian" -- the botched execution of that makes the film feel longer and more boring than a six-month trip to the Red Planet. As a result, "The Space Between Us" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed November 20, 2017 / Posted February 3, 2017


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