A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
While the idea of moving to Mars might not sound so terrible right about now, “The Space Between Us” is about a young man who’s spent all of his 16 years on the red planet and can’t wait to visit Earth—specifically, to meet the cute high school girl with whom he’s sparked an online flirtation. Trouble is, he may not physically be able to withstand the journey—or last long once he gets here.
It’s kind of an intriguing premise, even if it plays a bit like a “Muppet Babies” version of “Starman,” with an appealing lead performance from wide-eyed Brit Asa Butterfield. But the sci-fi/mystery element of the film works far better than the romance between Butterfield and an annoyingly feisty Britt Robertson as his interplanetary pen pal, and the whole thing ultimately collapses in a heap of unintentionally hilarious melodrama.
Veterans like Gary Oldman and Carla Gugino bring flashes of dignity and sometimes even emotional truth to this frequently silly enterprise. But—like Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren and Naomie Harris surely found while making “Collateral Beauty”—there’s only so much you can do with a soggy Allan Loeb script. The twists are just unbearably ridiculous, which drains all the power out of their supposed catharsis.
Then again, awkward tonal shifts abound in the film from director Peter Chelsom, known for such early-2000s misfires including “Town & Country,” “Serendipity” and the English-language remake of “Shall We Dance?” Chelsom, who also provides the voice of the boy’s wisecracking robot pal early on, can’t quite make the transition from a character receiving terrible news to a joyous hot air balloon festival, for example. And a scene in which Robertson’s fiercely independent foster-child character starts playing the piano and singing a ballad in the middle of a Sam’s Club shopping spree is more likely to prompt giggles than the poignancy for which it clearly aims.