Moving Pictures
Feb 29, 2024, 06:27AM

Major Adam

Spaceman is a dip in quality even for Adam Sandler.

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There’s not much rhyme or reason to what breaks through on Netflix and what doesn’t, but just about everything Adam Sandler does for them is a huge hit. It could be one of his traditional broad comedies, a romp about bat mitzvahs starring his daughters, a basketball vehicle like Hustle, or a prestige drama like Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories.

His new film, Spaceman, will test Sandler’s bulletproof status on the streaming service; the movie lands on Netflix Friday after premiering at Berlinale and getting a brief theatrical release last week. Spaceman is a weird sci-fi film featuring Sandler in a role similar to that of Sandra Bullock in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity—someone alone in space while preoccupied with what’s going on back home. And there’s also a touch of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, in which a human gets answers about their life from an alien.

The film has an intriguing premise, but it never does much with it, and the visuals, while incredible in parts, aren’t close to what we’ve seen from similar movies. It doesn’t help that Sandler is so quiet and subdued that he barely gives a performance at all.

Sandler plays Jakub, an astronaut from the Czech Republic sent on a solo mission to solve the mystery of a pink cloud hovering over the Earth. The film’s somewhat cagey about when it’s set, but it’s sometime after the end of the Cold War and the breakup of Czechoslovakia, but not so long after it, that the equipment doesn’t still look both primitive and Soviet.

The film’s adapted from a Czech novel called Spaceman of Bohemia, and directed by Swedish director Johan Renck, best known for music videos, and the acclaimed HBO miniseries Chernobyl. He was likely selected for this assignment based on his ability to deliver visuals with an air of “late Cold War, beyond the Iron Curtain, and very bleak.”

Jakub never wanted to go to space but seeks to redeem his family name after his father was disgraced by misdeeds in the waning days of the Communist era. Still, I spent much of the film wondering why this guy was sent on this possible Earth-saving mission. His main concern, rather than the mission, is what’s going on back home with his wife (Carey Mulligan), who’s expecting their child but is about to leave him. Mulligan mostly appears in flashbacks and visions.

There’s another “character” in the film: “Hanus,” a giant, tarantula-like alien, voiced by Paul Dano, who materializes on the spaceship and counsels Jakub, mostly about his personal life. He addresses Sandler as “Skinny Human.” The alien functions as his therapist. This same idea was explored last year in the Ben Kingsley movie Jules, in which an extraterrestrial arrived on Earth, and the first inclination of just about every human who met him was to unload their problems on him.

At some point, I noticed that Dano’s alien voice sounded almost exactly like Ignignokt, one of the “Mooninites” from the old Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoon, and I couldn’t stop hearing that for the rest of the movie. Isabella Rossellini is a welcome sight as the officer who appears to supervise the Czech space program. But I had a hard time caring about anything happening down on Earth.

Sandler makes a half-hearted attempt at a Czech accent (Mulligan speaks in her normal voice). But it’s more an issue that he’s giving a dramatic performance that’s so dialed-back that he barely shows any personality. I’ve enjoyed much of Sandler’s dramatic work in the past—Punch Drunk Love, Uncut Gems, Meyerowitz Stories, Hustle—in most cases even more than his comedies. In Spaceman, there’s not much reason for Sandler to even star in the film, aside from the part where Netflix subscribers seem to like clicking on his picture.


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