Transpiring sometime in the not-too-distant future, "The Space between Us" mixes sci-fi drama, road-trip tropes and teen romance into sugary goo that never jells. Yup, Houston, we have a problem.
The initial premise shows promise: A group of astronauts embark on a voyage to Mars. Once there, they settle in for a long-term stay thanks to the efforts of scientist and wavy-haired visionary Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman).
Mars is "ripe and ready" he tells a well-dressed crowd at a black-tie kickoff for the mission. Apt words, for sure, seeing as the lead astronaut (Janet Montgomery) on the Magellan-61 is unexpectedly pregnant. Once the news is out, a team of NASA doctors, scientists and specialists from Shepherd's Genesis Corporation clash on what to do about the baby. Reveal the situation and lose financing? Keep it secret? Abort the mission? What effects will zero gravity have on a developing fetus? Should the boy be raised on Mars? Bring him to Earth? Would Trump even let a Martian cross the border? Kidding.
All the ethical questions raised and (too-quickly) debated are provocative, but the movie rarely delivers on them. All the interesting ideas are tossed aside so director Peter Cheslom ("Serendipity") and writer Allan Loeb (cringe, "Collateral Beauty") can focus on the now 16-year-old Mars baby, Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), and the accompanying adolescent cliches born of first love and finding yourself. Eventually the script sends Gardner on an arduous journey to Earth, knowing our atmosphere will adversely affect his heart, lungs and brittle bones. He'll need a heart transplant.
Once here, Gardner breaks out of quarantine to track down his Skype pal, Tulsa ("Tomorrowland's" Britt Robertson, too old at age 26 to play a teen), and find his unknown father (a mystery with an obvious payoff). A road-trip to find Dad ensues, and as the miles pass, Gardner and a rebellious Tulsa predictably fall in love. Oldman's Nathaniel and Carla Gugino's Kendra are hot on their heels, anxious to retrieve Gardner before his heart breaks literally. I swear, you're not watching Nicholas Sparks, but it sure feels like it. All that's missing is an adorable dog.
Like he does in so many of his movies, Butterfield ("Hugo," "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"), props up the wayward script with solid acting. He's lovely as the fish-out-of-water alien experiencing age-appropriate real human connection for the first time (his BFF on Mars was a robot) and all the mundane things Earthlings take for granted, such as fresh-air, rain, fast-food burgers, fire, the ocean, driving. It's a reminder to stop and smell the roses, but not enough to sustain a 2-hour movie.
-- Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
"The Space Between Us"
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Gary Oldman, Britt Robertson.
(PG-13 for brief sensuality, strong language)