'The Space Between Us:' Sappy teen romance goes interplanetary

The title of The Space Between Us refers in literal terms to the 34 million miles separating the story’s teen soul mates.

Gardner (Asa Butterfield) is a 16-year-old lad who has been raised on a science colony on Mars (his parents are out of the picture), where he apparently does fine until puberty, at which point he finds a robot buddy insufficient.

So he communicates via interplanetary internet with a Colorado teen named Tulsa (Britt Robertson), herself a bounced-around foster kid, and they form a tight bond over their shared loneliness, made poignant (so hope the filmmakers) by the impossibility of their ever meeting.

This changes via one of the movie’s many arbitrary and nonsensical plot developments, and soon Gardner is in Colorado, AWOL from his NASA handler (Carla Gugino), and on the run with the free-spirited Tulsa, feeling all of Earth’s sensations for the first time, and, inevitably in this sort of movie, leaning out the window of a moving car, arms outstretched, free wind in his hair, as rousing pop music swells in the background.

Butterfield and Robertson are good young actors, their chemistry is fine, and they do about as much as they can with this dubiously reworked Starman scenario – Butterfield’s lanky, awkward frame and goggle-size blue eyes are well-suited to this fish-out-of-water role.

But the movie struggles with logical lapses. Gardner pretends not to know how to behave around humans, though he has been raised by them on a bustling space colony. The movie constructs jokes around his purported ignorance of Earth culture, but he has internet access, which should give him enough access to Earth culture to cause him to reconsider ever going there.

Another shaky plot element has NASA and its commercial partner keeping Gardner’s existence secret from the world. The only good thing to come from this is the opportunity for Gary Oldman to impersonate space-travel impresario Richard Branson, and even that gets old fairly quickly.

Also, Gardner’s isolated adolescence on Mars strikes me as un-awful. If you're a teen boy and your guardian is Carla Gugino, how bad can things be? 


The Space Between Us

Directed by Peter Chelsom. With Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Gary Oldman, Britt Robertson, Carla Gugino, Sarah Minnich, Janet Montgomery, Alma Sisneros, Lauren Myers, Asa Butterfield, BD Wong. Distributed by STX Entertainment.

Running time: 2 hours, 1 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for brief sensuality and language).