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AUSTIN — An oddball pastiche whose intent is hard to decipher, Jack Plotnick‘s Space Station 76 winks more than enough to be judged a comedy but behaves more like a sincere soap opera — a sci-fi workplace drama about lonely souls whose personal connections are fraudulent, if they exist at all. Set on the kind of space station that could only have been designed in the 1970s, the pic’s visuals and CG-shunning, model-loving FX will appeal to genre fans with a nostalgic streak. The presence of Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson in leading roles is a further enticement, but probably isn’t enough to make this peculiar outing more than midnight-movie fare in theaters.
Wilson plays Captain Glenn, the station’s deeply unhappy leader, who drinks to forget a secret gay relationship with a former coworker. Jessica (Tyler) is that man’s replacement, whose professionalism makes her stand out in a crew whose characters feel less like astronauts than the kind of Me Generation suburbanites whose floundering and philandering filled innumerable trashy novels.
The most easily recognized vintage stereotype here is Misty (Marisa Coughlan), the psychobabble-spewing pill-popper who attends to her own imagined emotional needs much more urgently than to those of her daughter (Kylie Rogers) or husband Ted (Matt Bomer). Ted, a maintenance man who fills the void in his love life with a hidden stash of pot, is of course subject to fantasies involving sad-eyed Jessica, who’s quickly becoming a surrogate mother to his child.
From the opening shots — in which a transport vehicle might as well be a terrestrial RV with its wheels replaced by booster rockets — to scenes involving a toy-robot psychiatrist and his limited catalogue of preprogrammed self-help aphorisms, the film has all the trappings of a straight, if cheap, retro-aping comedy. But Plotnick has clearly directed his cast to take the film’s melodramas seriously, and the script (created via improv by a handful of actors) musters just enough heft to make that plausible. A couple of scenes transcend their metafictional trappings, with actors unironically finding pathos in their characters’ loneliness, and one can imagine a small cult of generous viewers going along on that ride. Though it doesn’t quite hit the target, Plotnick’s vision of the future of the past is peculiar enough to resist quick dismissal.
Production Companies: Rival Pictures, Om Films
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlan, Kylie Rogers, Kali Rocha, Jerry O’Connell, Keir Dullea
Director: Jack Plotnick
Screenwriters: Jack Plotnick, Jennifer Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha, Michael Stoyanov
Producers: Edward Parks., Rachel Ward, Dan Burks, Katherine Ann McGregor, Joel Michaely
Executive producers: Niraj Bhatia, Frank Mele
Director of photography: Robert Brinkmann
Production designer: Seth Reed
Music: Steffan Fantini, Marc Fantini
Costume designer: Sandra Burns
Editor: Sharon Rutter
No rating, 94 minutes
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