Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"While the lo-fi production design on the spaceship - with its man-made webbing and items from food tins to tools strapped down left right and centre - is absorbing in its detail, there's only so long it can distract you from the film's bloated running time." | Photo: Netflix

Space, in general, is not known for getting the best out of solo male astronauts, who with the cheerful exception of Matt Damon's resourceful Mark Watney in The Martian, have a tendency to cope badly with quite so much alone time.

Now Adam Sandler's Jakub Prochazka joins the likes of Solaris' Kris Kelvin and Moon's Sam Bell in orbit around his own feelings. He's a Czechoslovakian astronaut deep into a mission to capture particles from a sparkly clump of mystery space dust on the edge of the solar system known as the Chopra Cloud. Sandler has the fragile and haggard look of a man who hasn't slept for a week from the start, his isolation reinforced as he takes questions from schoolkids back home, who ask him if he is "the loneliest man alive".

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He denies it, of course, but it's soon evident his marriage to pregnant wife Lenka (Carey Mulligan) - who thanks to the wonders of technology is or, at least, has been keeping in touch -  is reaching a point where she wants more breathing space. Unfortunately, the lack of oxygen extends to the writing from Colby Day, adapting from the novel Spaceman Of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar, who is so determined to keep a grip on the mood for the first section of the film, it almost grinds to a halt. This is, presumably, because a leap of faith is required from the viewer to go with what happens to Jakub next when after a disturbing dream that the film could do with more of, he encounters a creature deep in the ship.

This fantastical beast is Hanus (voiced with an ethereal lightness Paul Dano), an outsized spider whose appearance (potentially even in the film's trailer) will immediately alert audiences as to whether they are 'in' or 'out' so far as Spaceman is concerned. Those who are 'out' are, despite - and maybe even because of director Johan Renck's deliberately sombre mood maintenance - likely to find his arrival unintentionally funny. If you do, there's a good chance you'll be thrown so far out of the film's intended orbit it will be impossible to get back.

Hanus turns out to be quite loveable in his own way, as he bonds with Jakub over hazelnut spread and probes his mind, questioning him about his attitude to Lenka. But even if you buy into him as a conceit the psychological underpinning feels weak. It's evident from the start that Jakub is quite self-centred and that he needs a spidey psychologist to prise this from him is a stretch. Also, there's no tension attached to whether Hanus is real or a figment of Jakub's imagination, which adds to the general bland feeling of proceedings. Mulligan, meanwhile, is as watchable as ever on the ground but the role is underwritten.

While the lo-fi production design on the spaceship - with its man-made webbing and items from food tins to tools strapped down left right and centre - is absorbing in its detail, there's only so long it can distract you from the film's bloated running time. This craft element will also be significantly diminished when most people watch it on a small screen via Netflix when it is released on the platform on March 1. In a film that needs more sharp edges, what we're served is as soft and overly sweet as the spread Hanus loves.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2024
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An astronaut, has been on a space mission for months. He realises that his wife might not be waiting for him once he returns to Earth. In his desperation, he turns for help to a mysterious creature lurking deep in the bowels of his spaceship.
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Director: Johan Renck

Writer: Colby Day, based on the novel Bohemian Spaceman by Jaroslav Kalfar

Starring: Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan, Paul Dano, Kunal Nayyar, Isabella Rossellini, Lena Olin, Petr Papánek, Marian Roden, Zuzana Stivínová, Sinead Phelps, Sunny Sandler, John Flanders, Bash Doran, Petr Bláha, Mikulas Cizek

Year: 2024

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: US


BIFF 2024

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