"The Space Between Us" is for easily bemused teens while De Niro's "Comedian" hints at larger cultural truths.
It’s your typical Mars boy meets girl story.
A lad who has never left the red planet suddenly come to earth to meet a beautiful girl. “The Space Between Us” doesn’t skimp on that narrative. Virtually every other detail that might make the story pop, though, gets short shrift.
What’s worse? Another film that wastes the wonderful Gary Oldman. It’s high time the “Dark Knight” star found himself a streaming series worthy of his gifts.
Asa Butterfield stars as Gardner, a teen who has spent his entire life on Mars following a troubled attempt to colonize the planet. He’s a secret project raised by a kindly scientist (Carla Gugino). Gardner does have one friend, though. He shares a pen pal bond with an earth teen named Tulsa (Britt Robertson, “Mr. Church“).
When he finally gets the chance to visit earth he lunges for it. Only it’s not that simple. Since he was born and raised in an entirely different atmosphere, just stepping foot on Earth could kill him.
His organs might not handle the dramatic differences between the planets. He’ll try all the same, especially after getting to know his new earth chum.
The film’s trailer suggests an ambitious sci-fi drama worthy of the recent genre standouts. The full movie, though, is more akin to a teen melodrama, complete with a wildly manufactured finale.
“Space Between Us” doesn’t sweat anything above and beyond the fish out of water gags and sappy love story. Need an example? The movie skips forward 16 years at one point but doesn’t attempt to showcase that gap with the characters’ appearance. Sure, it’s always lame when you go overboard with aging makeup. You should still give it the ol’ college try.
FAST FACT: Britt Robertson is seven years older than her co-star, Asa Butterfield
“Space” is perfect for teens who are just getting to know movie dramas and want them to touch on their lives and frustrations. Even those viewers will balk at the plot holes and inconsistencies.
Don’t blame the casting for the movie’s many flaws. Butterfield of “Hugo” fame is a natural as the Everyteen caught between two worlds. His warm, expressive eyes do much of the work for him. He’s still adept at the physical humor in play. When he’s asked to reveal his soul following a health scare he does so effortlessly.
Robertson, the hardest working 20-something in Hollywood, patches over material that would trip up less talented stars. So why does “Space’s” love story take forever to come into focus?
Blame the screenplay, which also gets lazy at the worst possible times. Gardner is fascinated by Earth, and yet it’s clear he hasn’t read much about the planet or its culture in his 16-odd years.
That lets him stumble into some easy yuk-yuk moments. Don’t they have Google on Mars? Or a few good books?
That Butterfield-Robertson connection clicks just enough to make us care about Gardner’s health status. Which makes “Space’s” finale all the more disappointing.
HiT or Miss: Suckers for sappy romances might find something valuable in “The Space Between Us.” Everyone else will see a lackluster sci-fi entry.
Robert De Niro knows a thing or two about self sabotage.
For the past decade the Oscar winner has been shredding his legend with tripe like “Dirty Grandpa” and “The Big Wedding.” The actor who once saved his talents for the likes of Martin Scorsese suddenly appeared in every half-baked comedy that would cut him a paycheck.
So seeing him as a shock comic threatening his own career comeback probably hits too close to home. That’s a plus with “The Comedian,” a confused but ultimately engaging dramedy from director Taylor Hackford (“Ray”).
De Niro is Jackie Burke, a former sitcom star whose career has fallen and it can’t get up. A public meltdown captured on YouTube leads to some community service. And it’s where an unlikely comeback takes root.
Jackie meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), a much younger woman who also has an issue with controlling her rage. They form an unlikely bond that avoids the potential for intimacy – at first.
Their friendship coincides with Jackie’s attempt to rebuild his show business connections. He’ll do whatever it takes. Get insulted by young TV executives chasing social media darlings. Suffer through embarrassing gigs for quick exposure.
Along the way we’re left to ponder: who is Jackie Burke?
That “The Comedian” doesn’t effectively answer that question is two strikes against it. Is Jackie a truth teller in an age of PC handcuffs? Is his heart truly pure despite everything we see on stage and off?
FAST FACT: Taylor Hackford met actress and future wife Helen Mirren on the set of the 1984 film “White Nights.”
De Niro is such a sublime actor he pushes past the screenplay’s weaknesses. If only he had richer comic material. Jackie should kill at least once here. Maybe twice. Instead, his gags are more offensive than uproarious.
Is that the point?
Its hard to say since the film meanders in a half dozen directions, which only extends the film’s running time.
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By hitting cultural flash points “The Comedian” is always engaging. It’s also a bold critique of modern culture. We’re obsessed over clicks, corny TV shows and suppressing inconvenient truths. We see it all through Jackie’s fractured lens.
“The Comedian” skewers our celebrity obsessions like few films in recent memory. Does that make Jackie the ultimate truth teller? Or is he just a jerk who lucked into a sitcom gig?
That old show serves up the one through line worth following. Seeing grown men call Jackie by his sitcom character’s name reveals just how far the rabbit hole we’ve fallen..
Could Jackie’s comeback really hang on how viral his latest meltdown goes? Is there anything more sad than that when it comes to pop culture in 2017?
“The Comedian” slathers on the celebrity cameos (Billy Crystal, Charles Grodin, Nick Di Paolo) to make us feel like insiders in the comedy world. At times, it works. Some sequences still lack the proper payoff. Cloris Leachman gets a scene or two here, but by the time exits, stage right, you’ll wish the film had much more for her to do.
The supporting cast is unusually deep, with Harvey Keitel making the biggest, least palatable impression as Harmony’s father. Mann makes those sequences crackle. Then again, she remains one of Hollywood’s secret weapons. Only her husband, Judd Apatow, seems to fully understand that.
The romance, of sorts, between Jackie and Harmony is handled as delicately as possible given the vast age gap. It’s still another reminder of how Hollywood views the gender divide. Hint: one side gets the far better deal.
HiT or Miss: “The Comedian” is like a stand-up routine without focus, but individual gags hammer home why today’s pop culture has turned sour.