DVD REVIEW: SPACE STATION 76 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JACK PLOTNICK / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: PATRICK WILSON, LIV TYLER, MARISA COUGHLAN, MATT BOMER, JERRY O’CONNELL, KYLIE ROGERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The year is some ill-defined point in the future; the name of the place is Space Station 76. Because numbers are so much easier than having to come up with actual names all the time. Newly transferred officer Lieutenant Commander Jessica Marlowe (Tyler) begins her new position as the second in command of this second rate outpost that various stoners, hippies, manly men and girly girls all call home.
Space Station 76 starts off well, presenting all the right ingredients in its crammed buffet of deliberately retro cheese: arbitrarily blinking lights, chunky monitors showing blocky vector graphics, exterior shots of painted models, Betamax players, a precocious kid roaming the halls, casual sexism (“Nice ass, nice legs, nice tits”), cuboid robots and a porn-’tached captain, all promising to deliver a loving send-up of the fondly-remembered sci-fi TV and films of the ‘70s in all their flawed and honest charm.
The problem is, when you intentionally emulate the shortcomings of something you constantly run the risk of replicating them. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done well - Planet Terror was pure trash and utterly brilliant; Manborg was cheaper than a politician’s integrity but still enjoyably ridiculous; Iron Sky was a completely demented farcical riot. However, for all the affection the filmmakers clearly have for the era they are both satirising and paying homage to, they fail to capitalise on the sense of wonder, excitement and adventure that made people love its genre output right up to the present day in spite of the shoddy production values. Thus, we are left with little more than a science-fiction cousin to the deluge of forgettable faux-grindhouse garbage that outpoured in the wake of, well, Grindhouse.
When something resembling an actual plot fails to emerge from the funkadelic corniness, it becomes clear that this is all we’re going to get. Aside from tepid interpersonal friction, the only sense of danger comes from a stray asteroid careering towards the station that periodic cutaway shots remind us of, only to promptly forget about it ten seconds later. Despite the precise target of the satirical outlook, there is little in the way of acute observation or, indeed, actual jokes. Okay, it’s meant to be a black comedy, but there’s really not much humour to be gleaned from material such as self-loathing closeted homosexuality, young parents failing to disguise just how much they despise each other, a woman being unable to have kids, and a suicidally depressed man’s continually thwarted attempts to kill himself. Additionally, an attempted running joke of a little girl’s pets continually dying just feels spiteful. Even including a few absurd patriarchal banalities about women being unsuited for command would have made it more interesting.
What should have been a nostalgia-fuelled interstellar acid trip instead comes out as a monotonous sci-fi soap opera that feels dated and tiresome rather than retro and fun.
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