Asa Butterfield in The Space Between Us (Photo: STX Entertainment)

★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Peter Chelsom
STARS Gary Oldman, Asa Butterfield

If you want to learn about life on Mars, you can either groove to David Bowie or sit through The Space Between Us. It’s not really much of a choice. If it’s been determined that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then this daft film clearly hails from that planet with the foul-sounding name.

A teen flick that registers less as “YA” and more as “why bother,” The Space Between Us at least has its heart in the right place. That would be inside the body of 16-year-old Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), who becomes the first human born on Mars after his astronaut mom (Janet Montgomery) pops him out and subsequently dies on the operating table. Raised on the Red Planet by sympathetic astronaut Kendra Wyndham (Carla Gugino), Gardner longs to visit Earth, even though the change in atmosphere would threaten to enlarge his heart and destroy his bones. Nevertheless, with the approval of Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman), the head of the space program, Gardner is allowed to briefly visit our planet — at which point he takes off to find the father he never knew. Along for the cross-country trek is Tulsa (Charlotte native Britt Robertson), a grouchy high school girl who doesn’t believe he’s from Mars but elects to help him anyway.

The opening act on Mars is stridently lackluster — the presence of Matt Damon is sorely needed — and the picture only picks up slightly once it crash-lands on Earth. There’s some modest amusement in watching Gardner approach each new discovery like some intergalactic Chauncey Gardiner, and Butterfield sells these moments perfectly. But any sense of wonder quickly gives way to a tired and tepid romance between a dying boy and the girl he thaws, and the central mystery — the identity of Gardner’s father — is not only apparent from the start but also introduces some sleazy undercurrents into the tale. Those looking for quality cinema might want to stick with the Oscar contenders currently glutting theaters and maintain a safe distance from The Space Between Us.


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