The Space Between Us (STX Entertainment, PG-13)

For a film called The Space Between Us, it could have used a lot more space…

The intriguing premise promises something different. Unfortunately, this mishmash of odd dialogue, contrivances, and spotty editing can’t fulfill that promise.

The Space Between Us begins with a group of astronauts, led by Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery), preparing for a trip to Mars to see if it is possible to live there. This mission is the brainchild of scientist Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman). While on the mission, it is discovered that Sarah is pregnant. She dies in childbirth. Her son, Gardner (Asa Butterfield), grows up on Mars under the watchful eye of astronaut Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino). He has no connection to Earth, besides an online friendship he forms with a girl nicknamed Tulsa (Britt Robertson).

When he turns 16, Gardner is given the chance to visit Earth, something he has yearned for. However, Shepherd is looking to keep him secret, fearing the blowback. Gardner escapes to find Tulsa and his father, while risking his life since his body is not used to Earth’s atmosphere.

Based on an original story by Allan Loeb, Stewart Schill, and Richard Barton Lewis (Loeb wrote the screenplay), the premise of a young man from another world (literally) adapting to an environment he is unfamiliar with, finding love in the process, is interesting. But for a film called The Space Between Us, it could have used a lot more space. Once Gardner touches down on Earth, all the interest disappears and transitions into a clunky love story/chase movie/mystery—none of it gelling. The relationship between Gardner and Tulsa only works because Butterfield and Robertson are charming performers. What is not helping them is some of the insipid lines they are given. (“How did you become more beautiful in 20 seconds?” is one of the many whoppers.) Robertson’s character, who is actually from Earth, is saying things that I cannot imagine most people her age would ever say.

The relationship also suffers from a lack of development. We never find out how these two connected in the first place and the clumsy plotting does not give the relationship a chance to breathe as much as needed. When they do stop to connect, that’s when the Nicholas Sparks-style dialogue sets in. Both of these young actors deserve better than this.

Gary Oldman is not relegated to the usual villain roles he is known for, but he is not given much in compensation. The one who gets out of this with the least damage is Carla Gugino. Her character’s openness and love for Gardner is refreshing, and Gugino has the presence to pull it off.

Director Peter Chelsom is working to get you to feel something. Over-earnestness has been exploited in some of his previous films like Shall We Dance?, Town & Country, and Hannah Montana: The Movie. What this film does have over those is a more accomplished technical sheen. Shot by Barry Peterson, there are the nice shots of space we come to expect as well as the expected sweeping shots of oceans and canyons. Andrew Lockington delivers a serviceable score, though there are times it tries too hard to make you feel something. But all of that is trivial up against the cringe-inducing dialogue and a third act twist that you can see coming from a planet away.

The best way to describe The Space Between Us would be backward. On Mars, the characters feel more human. On Earth, the characters feel more written. There is so much promise in the beginning that its inability to follow-up on its convictions ultimately dooms The Space Between Us to nothing more than mediocrity. | Bill Loellke

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