It appears Adam Sandler has reached a point in his career where he can do whatever he wants. He made his hay with films like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, continued to keep the cash registers ringing with easily accessible films like Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, and did things in between like Punch Drunk Love and Uncut Gems to prove he is more than a pretty face. Spaceman is another foray into drama for Sandler, this time within a science-fiction framework.

Sandler plays an astronaut on a solo mission beyond Jupiter to investigate an anomaly headed for earth. The anomaly is a mysterious purple cloud. On the way there, Sandler discovers that he has company on the journey, in the form of a German Shepherd-sized alien spider.

Space, Man…

In the vacuum of space, all of the above is good stuff. The purple cloud is suitably ambiguous. Is it benign? Is it dangerous? The viewer wants to know.

Likewise, Sandler’s character invites investing. Something fascinating exists about explorers managing a journey all by themselves where a multitude of things can go wrong that bring instant death.

Interesting world-building is also at play. The story seems to take place in an alternate 1980s where the Czechs have a thriving space program. The space vehicle Sandler mans is wonderfully analog. It is full of buttons, clutter, CRT screens, cords, and aging equipment. All of the shots of Sandler floating through the various compartments are well done.

Corporate sponsorship is another wrinkle inserted into the proceedings. Even while deteriorating physically due to loneliness and stress, Sandler must maintain a PR demeanor as he delivers clearly-coached sound bites to listeners on earth and gives his approval of products like nausea pills.

Only Sandler’s earthbound handlers, Isabella Rossellini and Kunal Nayyar, from The Big Bang Theory, are privy to Sandler’s struggles with challenges like lack of sleep and a loud toilet.


The next complication is the introduction of the alien spider. One day Sandler opens the door to his toilet, and there the creature sits. The spider is named Hanus and is fairly creepy. He does not have an exoskeleton like earthly spiders. He has an endoskeleton and skin that is, frankly, scrotum-like. A soft, high-pitched voice (performed by Paul Dano) adds another layer of weird to the package.

Again, as far as these elements go, Spaceman nails it. The film is chock full of mystery, potential conflict, and creepiness. And then all of that is thrown away…

After the first 30 minutes, the film becomes an encounter session between Sandler and Hanus to get to the bottom of his emotional issues. One usually has a choice of three things in stories like this that serve as a genesis for the emotional issues: an estranged love, a lost child, or a distant parent.

In this case, Spaceman takes elements of all three. Viewers will start looking at the clock as Sandler cries his way through them. Yet, Sandler’s performance is not the problem. Sandler does fine, perhaps great, in fact. We simply don’t care because we are disappointed that all of the elements for a cracking science-fiction yarn are here, and they are all tossed aside for feelings.

Give Me Space, Man…

Emotional movies have their place, but it is frustrating in the case of Spaceman because it is a bit of a bait-and-switch. One is set up with all kinds of mysteries. For example, I took to wondering about the nature of Hanus and his possible relationship to the cloud.

Was Hanus an enemy pretending to be a friend? Was the cloud maybe alive? Maybe the entire cloud was made up of baby spiders all headed for earth to crawl into people’s ears and eat their brains. Or, would it turn out that Hanus was on the run from the cloud, as well, and was an ally? Would the cloud somehow transform things or kill things? What would go wrong and prevent escape? Would Sandler and Hanus have to team up to get away? Was Hanus even real?

Instead, it is all tear-jerker happenings instead.

“Whoopity-doo!” as Sandler exclaimed in The Wedding Singer.

Embrace The Space, Man…

Spaceman would have been better served to embrace its Weird Science aspects and go for the comic-book storyline. One could argue that is the cliché path to take, and Spaceman attempts to be more. I would argue, Spaceman just traded one cliché for another. The story of a man on an emotional journey while also going through a physical journey has been done to death, as well.

Yet, this is not a tirade against cliché. Cliché is fine. To put it simply, cliché is cliché because it works and entertains people. Have fun with it.

At the end of the day, there is little fun to be had with Spaceman after the first thirty minutes or so. It mostly seems like Sandler is a bit bored with making people laugh and wanted to try to make people cry instead. Then add a dash of quirkiness to make it all seem less on-the-nose.

No need exists to begrudge Sandler for trying. He serves a function in movie world. Sandler has filled a lot of theater seats, which creates an entertainment foundation for others to build on and, perhaps, rise above. Sandler deserves to take his shot at elevated material, as well.

This rocket just broke apart after launch due to mechanical errors in the story structure…

Stars 2

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