‘Spaceman’ movie review: Adam Sandler cannot save gloomy sci-fi affair

Netflix’s latest offering to the cosmos of science fiction drama leaps into the stars but falls short of celestial wonder. The film “Spaceman”, directed by Johan Renck, acclaimed for his triumphant work on “Chernobyl”, suffers from a conceptual gravity it can’t escape. Despite its promises of an inventive voyage to the unknown and an emotional odyssey, the film orbits around a general sense of dissatisfaction.

At the heart of “Spaceman” orbits Jakub Procházka, portrayed by Adam Sandler, whose face wears the fatigue of resigned sorrow more often than the quirkiness he’s known for. Jakub’s character is Czech, yet Sandler’s charm struggles to break through the film’s somber overtones. Based on Jaroslav Kalfař’s 2017 novel “Spaceman of Bohemia”, the movie hoped to mirror the book’s depth but finds itself adrift amidst uncharted narrative nebulae.

Sandler’s Jakub is sent on a solitary mission to the stars to investigate an enigmatic cosmic anomaly known humorously as the ‘Chopra Cloud’. But this endeavor promptly gives way to an exploration of the psychological and emotional void within Jakub himself. Plagued by solitude, his yearning for his pregnant wife Lenka, played by an underused Carey Mulligan, is palpably intense. Lenka, on Earth, contemplates severing their celestial bond—unbeknownst to Jakub, whose commanding officer, played by Isabella Rossellini, shields him from the crumbling state of his terrestrial life.

The isolation of space becomes fertile ground for existential introspection when Jakub’s loneliness conjures an unexpected companion: a telepathic, therapy-providing spider named Hanuš, voiced by Paul Dano. Hanuš should be the glue binding this interspatial relationship, offering a chance for catharsis and depth. Instead, the linkage is as intangible as the void that surrounds them, evoking the sense of companionship between Aragog and Hagrid from the Harry Potter saga, yet missing the emotive resonance that left those touched by that story spellbound.

Adding to the film’s trials is an identity crisis that “Spaceman” can’t resolve. A scattered assortment of American and English actors attempt to inhabit Czech personas with fluctuating conviction. Jakub’s tumultuous past, haunted by a father tied to ominous historical misdeeds, is alluded to but never fully addressed. Similarly, Lenka’s character is thinly sketched, the depth of her internal world reduced to a few on-screen glimpses. The film struggles to provide the audience with enough narrative substance to connect with her experiences or comprehend the intricacies of her relationship with Jakub.

Perhaps a dash of Sandler’s comedic flair could have lightened the film’s heavy atmosphere, opening a hatchway to a more palatable sci-fi drama. While Mulligan’s talent assures she is compelling in any role, better character construction and more screen presence might have elevated the material. Even Paul Dano’s silky narration can’t infuse life into a soundtrack that’s as subdued as the storyline itself. The support cast, featuring Lena Olin and Kunal Nayyar—whose celestial character pursuit persists beyond his “The Big Bang Theory” days—does what it can within the confines of an underdeveloped script.

When all is said and done, “Spaceman” ventures boldly into the cosmos but feels lost in its journey, never quite relaying the emotional pilgrimage it promises. It’s a story that, while seeking to touch the stars, finds itself unmoored and floundering in a cinematic vacuum.

“Spaceman” is now available for viewers on Netflix, an invitation for those curious enough to embark on this spaced-out narrative. Yet, it seems, this is one small step for film, one giant leap into disappointment.

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