There’s no point in delving too much into The Space Between Us, because the demographic for the movie and our own demographic do not intersect. It’s a “young adult” movie, but not the sort — like Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars — that might appeal to any audience over the age of 16. It’s vapid and cheesy, but if you’re a moony teenager without an ounce of cynicism, who still doodles love notes — as I was, perhaps — there might be some appeal in the film.
The Space Between Us is not a good movie, but it’s harmlessly bad. The problems begin with the script, from one of Hollywood’s worst screenwriters, Allan Loeb, the studio hack behind Rock of Ages, Here Comes the Boom, Collateral Beauty. It’s the kind of cornball writing that makes your teeth ache, and yet, those who have yet to graduate junior high might find some value in it.
There’s a lot going on in The Space Between Us, but here’s the shortened version: It’s 2018, and a man named Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) decides to build a colony on Mars called East Texas. He sends a number of astronauts to the planet to build the colony, one of which we discover is pregnant en route. On Mars, she delivers the baby, Gardner (Asa Butterfield), but dies in childbirth. The child miraculously survives, but because gravity is lighter on Mars, Gardner’s bones are brittle and his organs are too small to survive on Earth.
Nevertheless, when Gardner is 16 — having spent all of his life surrounded by scientists on Mars, including his mom surrogate (Carla Gugino) — Gardner travels back to Earth after a surgery in the hopes that he can survive under the weight of our gravity (there’s actually some scientific basis in this, but it’s mostly wrong in the movie. It’s not the enlarged heart that would be a problem, but an already brittle spine and bones in 3x the gravity, but an enlarged heart is a more apt metaphor, I suppose). Discovering that he cannot survive back on Earth, Gardner nevertheless escapes custody and meets up with a girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), with whom he had developed a relationship online from Mars. Those two run from Oldman’s character, who is trying to return Gardner to Mars before he dies. The duo endeavor to track down Gardner’s father before Gardner is captured. In the meantime, Gardner and Tulsa fall in love during their road trip. There’s also a twist in the end, but it’s telegraphed so early on that it provides absolutely no surprise.
The Space Between Us tries on a lot of genre hats — road trip movie, love story, sci-fi flick, chase thriller, long-lost Dad movie — but it excels at none, leaving a final product that’s little more than a mish-mashed pile of mediocrity, if that. Robertson and Butterfield are intermittently compelling when they’re not asked to deliver lines that sound like a 50-year-old man attempting to channel a teenager, but Oldman can’t muster much beyond a performance worthy of a Redbox Razzie. It’s bland and contrived, but sappy enough, perhaps, to appeal to lovesick teenagers. Beyond that, it’s a fairly worthless movie.