Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Space Between Us

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” and “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

When the term “visitor from another planet” is used, most folks conjure up visions of aliens landing on Earth, their space craft hovering high in the sky above. There is no such imagery as that in “The Space Between Us,” even though a visitor from Mars does come down to Earth. The twist is that he’s a human born on a Mars colony, and his first-time visit to Earth is shepherded through the auspices of NASA.

The visitor is Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield). His mother Sarah (Janet Montgomery) was pregnant with him throughout her seven month journey from Earth to Mars and gave birth to Gardner shortly after landing. Then she died. This sent mission director Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) into a tailspin, unsure of the best way to deal with the news, and left Gardner in the care of the crew.

Sixteen years later and Gardner is grown up and in the care of the firm but nurturing Kendra (Carla Gugino). He’s also been living inside the colony his whole life and feels cooped up. He is aware of what happened with his mother and knows about Earth, so he’s desperate to get to Earth to find his father. His only outlet is online video chatting with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), a high schooler from Earth who hates her foster home existence and can’t wait to turn eighteen so she can take off for good. Their common bond is that they both feel trapped in their existences and yearn to break free. The only difference is that Gardner’s voyage involves traveling almost 34 million miles on an interplanetary vessel.

Shortly after arriving on Earth and finding out that he must go back to Mars due to a medical condition, Gardner swipes a man’s clothes from a locker and escapes. In these scenes, he does just about look like an alien. His pants are too short, his shoes are too big, he’s wearing oversize sunglasses at night, and he’s celebrating the rain coming down while everyone around him is running for cover. As a man on the sidewalk observes, Gardner is a “weird kid.”

Gardner needs help tracking down his dad, so he finds Tulsa and the two run off together on a cross country road trip. “The Space Between Us” seamlessly shifts gears between its different narrative thrusts. We start off with a character drama about two isolated people, then go into a chase movie, then the chase subsides for a bit as the two isolated characters come together and get to know each other. It’s not an easy journey since Gardner tells her the truth about where he’s from and she thinks he’s a whack job, but as time goes on she softens and her affection for him grows in a very natural way. As for him, he’s always had an affection for her—something he is a bit too up front about in one of the movie’s best scenes that lays down some painful truths about typical human interaction.

There’s only one scene in “The Space Between Us” that, while amusing, rang a bit false. It’s the scene in which Gardner and Tulsa are sitting in a car when a man on horseback rides past them. Gardner is freaked out and confused. I find it hard to buy that all throughout his thorough education, knowledge of Earth, viewing of movies, and access to the Internet, that he’s never seen a horse before and would have that reaction. He doesn’t react that way to seeing a dog, and surely he knows that there are other species on Earth besides humans. I have a feeling that the scene is left over from an earlier draft of the screenplay in which Gardner was given far less knowledge about Earth, but it survived through to the final stage because it’s amusing, plus it provided a good button for the movie’s trailer. But if one cutesy, funny scene that doesn’t quite fit is my biggest gripe about an entire two hour movie, then that means it’s pretty darn good. Buy it on Amazon: The Space Between Us (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD).

Also New This Week

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Hey, “xXx: Return of Xander Cage,” the early 2000s called—they want their movie back. Why anyone thought there was a need to revive this relic from 15 years ago (or 12 if you count “xXx: State of the Union,” with Ice Cube in the lead role instead of Vin Diesel) is beyond me. Star Diesel, who as the title states is back as extreme sports super spy Xander Cage, already has two hot franchises with the “Fast/Furious” and “Riddick” movies. He’s secure with two more “Fast/Furious” movies into 2021, and a new movie in which he plays Riddick was announced. Does he really need a third franchise? If so, did he really need to polish off this dried turd in order to get it?

He’s clearly going for a franchise here, since this script is more than a sequel—it’s a reboot. Xander and Darius Stone (Cube) are both back, as is xXx program founder Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson). This time Xander has a team, and it’s made up of various social malcontents, misfits, and lawbreakers including sniper Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose) to watch his back, reckless Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann) to drive like a maniac and destroy anything in his path, and Nicks (Kris Wu), who’s shown in his brief back story sneaking into a night club to spin some tunes. So what’s his contribution to the team? I’m not totally sure, but as far as I can tell, he’s in charge of the play list. It’s interesting that these three loners all show up to meet Cage at the same time but in separate vehicles. Seriously, they couldn’t car pool? Are the egos on these people so huge that they couldn’t all fit in a car together?

Probably, though they do have a kin ship with each other in that they’re all outsiders. The do not have a kin ship, however, with the norms of society or with the “suits,” as Cage calls them, such as Intelligence Chief Jane Marke (Toni Collette). It’s also really not too much of a surprise that they don’ have a kin ship with Marke’s special squad of soldiers either. This is in spite of the fact that the soldiers and Cage’s team both risk life and limb. The major difference is that the soldiers risk for duty, honor, and country, while Cage and his goons do what they do for their own selfish thrill. So of course, after one too many Mountain Dew jokes by the soldiers’ commander Paul Donovan (Tony Gonzalez), Cage finds a way to send him and his men parachuting from their carrier plane along with some cargo.

Cage et al. are up against a man named Xiang (Donnie Yen), who also has a crew of his own including idealistic-minded weapons expert Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone), big bruiser Hawk (Michael Bisping), and motorcycle stunt enthusiast Talon (Tony Jaa), who enjoys making weird clicking sounds with his mouth. His need to do this is one of the least worrisome head scratchers in this movie.

Fans of Asian action cinema will no doubt recognize Yen and Jaa’s names, particularly from the highly acclaimed “Ip Man” and “Ong Bak” franchises, respectively. I guess they’re looking for another franchise too. Much like the initial thrill of an “Expendables” movie, it’s great to see these guys on screen together. But that’s the jumping off point. Something has to be done with the premise.

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” isn’t all bad. The opening hang gliding/forest skiing/skateboarding sequence is an imaginative adrenaline rush, and a chase scene between Cage and Xiang in which motorcycles transform into water skis is also pretty good. I also really liked the resident tech expert in the movie, Becky Clearidge, played by Nina Dobrev with sweet yet naughty girl next door charm. With the exception of a brainless (even for this movie) and cringey scene in which she (mis)handles an automatic weapon, I enjoyed all of the scenes with her. This is most likely because she’s the only one in this movie with any relatable personality, or soul. Everyone else might as well be made of cardboard. For fans of action movies, with nothing else better to watch, Stream it.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

It’s in the title: “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter”—and as predicted in my review for the latest “Underworld” movie, I will state that I can only hope that this is the last installment in this completely stale franchise. The movie borrows a bit from the latest “Mad Max” movie, only instead of a convoy of souped-up cars and trucks, it’s a bunch of zombies chasing a slow moving tank commanded by Umbrella Corporation baddie Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen). It’s a race against time between him and Alice (Milla Jovovich) to get to Raccoon City—where it all began—to stop the spread of a virus that will wipe out humanity.

The movie is drab to look at, even in the scenes that are lit well enough to see. Many of the interior sets are dark and crowded. This would be fine if director Paul W.S. Anderson did anything interesting or atmospheric, but no—we just get a bunch of woefully mediocre jump scares every five minutes.

As bad as some of the previous “Resident Evil” movies are, at least they always had a scene or visual or something really cool to look at. Alas, there are no memorable moments in “The Final Chapter.” Just bland, basic shootouts, a nonsensical plot (particularly when scrutinizing it along with the plot details of previous movies), too much dark, and too little scares. The only horror in this horror movie is how horrible it is. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Joe’s War,” about a soldier coping with PTSD after serving two tours in Iraq, with Armand Assante and Tom Sizemore; “Danger Close,” documentary featuring real-life soldier stories; and “Willard” from 1971 as well as its 1972 sequel “Ben,” about highly intelligent rats who help their human masters get revenge on those who wrong them. Fun fact: The sweet, sad, and soulful Jackson Five hit song “Ben” from 1972 is from the movie “Ben,” and it plays over the end credits.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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