Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 05, 2017 3:59 pm 
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Boy from Mars

The lengthy and unnecessary opening sequences of The Space Between Us qualify it as a bad movie. This is a NASA mission-gone-wrong turned manhunt, turned sci-fi movie with a teen love story. Obviously too much to bear, and the overpowering, uninteresting music makes it worse. Things start out very badly with an opening sequence that's fake, grandiose, and unnecessary. The only hope becomes that this at last is the truly bad winter release we can mock-watch. It doesn't work out that way. It's too good a vehicle for the special talents of young English actor Asa Butterfield (The Boy in Striped Pajamas, Hugo), who turns his part of the story, which is the main part, into a lark. If you don't find his character's naive, alien enthusiasm fun rather than (as many critics do) saccharine, this movie's entertaining. But here's a message for Gary Oldman: you and your flowing hair and fashion eyeglasses don't work for a NASA honcho. Take roles you're more suited for, please. (His two different chic glasses frames - to show the passage of time - are distracting, but the best thing about his character.)

In the story the writers and director Peter Chelson take far too long to introduce NASA sends a mission to Mars whose director, a lady, discovers an unplanned pregnancy. This puts Oldman et al. into a tizzy. After much tiresome arguing, they decide not to abort the mission but to keep the baby a secret. Jump forward 16 years at the Mars station, with the cute name of East Texas, when Gardner Eliot (Butterfield) is the grown up child born on Mars, an orphan not knowing who his father was, his mother having died giving birth to him.

Gardner is smart and lonely except for his online girlfriend Tulsa (Britt Robertson), an angry high school student who hates everybody but Gardner, and an orphan like him. He wants to go to earth and find his father and see Tulsa. This proves a lot less difficult than getting through the speeches of Gary Oldman. Gardner somehow rather quickly escapes confinement, gets to Earth (travel to and from Mars now takes three seconds in film time), and finds Tulsa. His organs are not going to withstand the Earth environment, and the gravity makes him feel very heavy, but he enjoys everything, dragging Tulsa off on a wild search for his father. She is as guarded as he is guileless but both fall in love.

He has lied to her online that he was a kid with a disease confined to a penthouse on Park Avenue. She realizes that's not true and demands to know where he really came from. When he tells the truth, some comedy ensues. From here on the story turns into a classic young outlaw couple on the run, with the added flavor of Asa Butterfield's impersonation of an enthusiastic young alien. Having experienced nothing, Gardner is ready to try anything. All he has is a blown up photograph. NASA goes on a clumsy manhunt to retrieve him - and like the opening sequence, these scenes drag things down.

Nicolas Roeg's Man Who Fell to Earth, which many of us rewatched in theaters following the demise of David Bowie last year, just drops the alien on earth at the very outset. If only Chelsom and his scenarist Allan Loeb and co-writers Stewart Schill and Richard Barton Lewis (too many cooks?) had kept it simpler, and cut out some of the corn and tamped down the loud music, Butterfield's performance and his romance with Britt Robertson would shine. The Man Who Fell to Earth is a classic, but it is no masterpiece. It meanders and goes on too long. It's advantage is the physicality of David Bowie, a natural alien, and the fact that he was not an actor. Asa Butterfield hasn't that advantage, but he has charm and presence, and strange pale blue eyes. This would be a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon where you could fast-forward through the first half hour or so. Start when it gets to Asa.

The Space Between Us, 121 mins., debuted in US theaters 3 Feb. 2017. Metacritic rating 33%.

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