If you insist on sitting through the pap that is Peter Chelsom’s The Space Between Us, consider taking a Lactaid — there’s enough cheese here to affect even the heartiest disposition. Yes, it’s a mostly harmless tween romance with tinges of sci-fi. But, boy, is Chelsom’s movie an exercise in earnest gooeyness, a film that just oozes schmaltz right down to its cornball title. It’s the kind of movie that’ll make your teeth hurt while never being actively horrible enough to be memorable. Even the film’s silly conceit — “bored teen born on Mars heads to Earth to probably die” — isn’t enough to save The Space Between Us from the trash heap of forgotten cinema.
The film is about a boy named Gardner (Asa Butterfield), born on Mars by his astronaut mother (Janet Montgomery) who then dies in childbirth. This is about all the film has in common with 1979’s Alien, as Gardner is raised by another astronaut (Carla Gugino) who — with the help of NASA head Nathaniel (Gary Oldman) — gets the teenage Gardner a quick trip to Earth, the planet the lonely kid (his only friend is a robot) has always longed to visit.
Being the only person who, at this point, wants to be on Earth, Gardner escapes into the greater world as a means of tracking down his long lost — and still unknown to him — father. (Big twist: It’s exactly who you think it is from the onset.) The film quickly turns into a weepy teen romance, as our hero risks his life every minute he’s on Earth due to an enlarged heart from years living on Mars. (I’m just now realizing the symbolism here. Boy, is it gross.) Falling in with a jaded teenage girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), who’s skeptical about his time on Mars, the film slowly becomes about their budding romance and her gradual belief in his story as she sees him slowly dying the longer he’s on Earth.
Gardner roaming our planet is where the film truly gets knee-deep in its own sentimentality. Since he’s never been socially trained and knows little of what is actually on Earth, the film becomes reel after reel of seeing the beauty in the world. (He’ll flat out state his emotions while being awed at the sight of a horse.) The idea is to create a sense of wonder at the world and the miracle of life, but The Space Between Us never quite gets there. Look, one of my great weaknesses is finding comfort in the sentimental, but it has to be earned and steeped in some greater emotional truth than whatever it is this movie wants to peddle. This here is the tender-moments, Hallmark greeting card type of sentimental, and it just seeps out of the screen. Butterfield does his best with this junk and has enough charm to make the unbelievable nature of the plot’s basics able to be overlooked. But the film itself can’t escape the barren landscape of its own shallow, cheap tepidity, lazily constructed and undeserving of any real greater emotions. Rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and language.
Now playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.