“The Space Between Us” has an interesting germ of an idea — astronaut unaware she’s pregnant when she and her crew blast off for Mars — and then crash-lands it with a sappy, predictable teen romance on Earth.
To be fair, the warning signs were there in the opening scene, with some truly cringe-worthy dialogue. Gary Oldman stars as Nathaniel Shepherd, the mastermind behind plans to begin a colony on Mars. The first six astronauts to live in the oddly-named East Texas compound are led by Sarah Elliott (Janet Montgomery).
Apparently Sarah had a little too much pre-flight entertainment and as the months-long trek to the red planet progresses, it turns out her space sickness is really morning sickness.
They can’t turn the ship around and so Sarah gives birth on Mars, and promptly dies from the stress of Martian childbirth. Back home, Shepherd and his staff are debating how to deal with the new development. Shepherd concludes the public would not approve and funding for the project would dry up. So the boy’s existence is kept a secret.
Now, this could’ve been interesting — especially the thought of a half-dozen men (Sarah was the only woman on the team) trying to raise an infant in a hostile environment without diapers or milk or pacifiers. But we’ll never know how they pulled it off because the next thing you know the baby is 16 years old.
Gardner (Asa Butterfield) seems to be living a pretty well-adjusted life, considering the circumstances. Astronaut Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino) has taken over as surrogate mother, and Gardner has a pen pal on Earth named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). Mars has an impressive internet connection.
While going through his mother’s belonging, Gardner finds a video of Sarah and a man he assumes is his father. Gardner becomes determined to visit Earth and meet dad. Shepherd rejects the idea, fearing that Gardner’s body could not adjust to life on the home planet. Shepherd is overruled, and Kendra and Gardner catch the first rocket to the third rock from the sun.
Gardner is put in quarantine until they can determine if it’s safe for him. As is the way in these kinds of movies, Gardner grows impatient and escapes. Not only does a teen who’s never been to this planet, not to mention has trouble adjusting to the gravity and atmosphere, manage to escape NASA and stay one step ahead of his keepers — he also manages to travel cross-country to find Tulsa.
Gardner is earnest, optimistic and lacks social skills. Tulsa is cynical, streetwise but has a heart of gold under that tough exterior. They crash an airplane, steal multiple cars, fall in love, all while making their way to dad’s place. Shepherd and Kendra are always two steps behind.
“The Space Between Us” has its enlarged heart in the right place, but it’s just too sappy, silly and predictable to recommend. There is some nice scenery, I’ll give it that.