Space Station 76 is an odd but interesting idea. It’s a movie set in the future, but the 1970s version of the future, complete with bell bottoms, big hair and attitudes to sexuality and gender that haven’t fully gotten to grips with the sexual revolution.
Jessica (Liv Tyler) comes aboard Space Station 76 and is immediately faced with suspicion due to the fact she’s a woman, and so people wonder why she isn’t at home making dinner and raising children. However that’s soon the least of her problems as she’s been dumped in the middle of a melting pot of fractured relationships, simmering resentment, and tortured sexuality.
Ted (Matt Bomer) and Misty (Marissa Coughlan) are a couple where it’s clear they only stay with each other for their child, although they’re keen to suggest to the world that everything’s perfect. However Misty’s claws come out when Jessica develops a friendship with her daughter. Hubby Ted meanwhile has also noticed the beautiful new arrival – that’s when he’s not smoking pot and gazing at a beautiful naked woman who’s randomly floating in space (I did say the film was a little odd).
Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson) meanwhile is a cauldron of anger, frustration and suicidal thoughts, desperately trying to keep control and hide the fact that the man Jessica is replacing wasn’t just a good friend.
There’s no doubt the whole setup is peculiar but it has a lot of promise and a great cast to bring it together. However there’s a constant feeling that everyone knows a film set in a 1970s-style future is a great idea, but they’re not sure what to do with it. For the first half it’s essentially a series of skits, some more successful than others, which don’t appear to be leading anywhere.
The problem is largely a lack of clarity. For example it’s not always clear what it’s trying to spoof. While presumably it’s challenging 70s attitude to gender (for example), that’s not always clear. Likewise there’s a tendency for the movie to undermine any point it appears to be trying to make for a joke, which results in a film that doesn’t quite seem to know whether it’s up or down.
Things do improve though in the second half, where it finds its narrative thrust and fully embraces its characters. While it still wants to be funny, it also shows great sympathy for what’s going on, and allows the dark side to come through. It seems to realise that actually it’s a modern tragedy and as soon as it does it becomes a much better movie and a funnier one.
It is unfortunately a case of being too little too late though, as even at the end the whole thing comes across as slightly pointless. That’s a great shame as there is a huge amount of potential and the last 20 minutes are really good, involving a wonderfully funny and tense scene where all the characters come together and secrets are revealed.
The film is based on a play, and you can see how this would have been fun as a camp, over the top stage piece, which didn’t need a huge amount of structure and drama as long as it brought the laughs. However the transfer to the screen hasn’t brought the cohesion and core the film needed.
That said, out actor turned director Jack Plotnick shows great promise with his debut and if he can find the right script he could have an excellent career behind the camera. And if he wants to make a movie that’s just about Space Station 76’s inspired and absolutely hilarious robotic psychologist, Dr. Bot, I’d be more than happy to watch that.
Overall Verdict: There’s a decent amount of fun in this futuristic take on the 70s, but the film’s tendency towards randomness and the fact it leaves it too late to finds its narrative core means it’s not as entertaining as it might have been.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac