SPACE STATION 76
2014, No MPAA rating, 94
2014, No MPAA rating, 94 mins.
Patrick Wilson as Captain Glenn / Liv Tyler as Jessica / Jerry O'Connell as Steve / Marisa Coughlan as Misty / Matt Bomer as Ted / Kali Rocha as Donna /
Directed by Jack Plotnick / Written by Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Jack Plotnick, Kali Rocha, and Michael Stoyanov
SPACE STATION 76 is one of the most peculiar science fiction films - and comedies - that I’ve ever seen.
the film’s audacious level of peculiarity that makes it kind of oddly
infectious. Directed and
co-written by Jack Plotnick, SPACE STATION 76 is an adaptation of a Los
Angeles based stage play that was apparently developed through a series of
improvisational sessions with the writers and actors.
What has emerged may not entirely be cohesive (many of the film’s
disparaging parts never hold together with a strong fluidity), but
Plotnick deserves points for marrying absurdist comedy, dramatic pathos,
and an intoxicating retro look and feel to the entire production.
Best of all, most of the performers play everything straight, never once
acknowledging that they’re in a comedy.
But then again…is SPACE STATION 76 a pure comedy…or a loving homage to Disco-era science fiction…or a scathing satire of 1970’s workplace gender inequality…or a combination of all of those traits and many more? I’d lean towards the latter. Plotnick’s film has definitive echoes of classic science fiction genre efforts like SILENT RUNNING, LOGAN’S RUN, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (more on that in a bit) as well as a some nods to TV fare like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and SPACE: 1999. His film is a “futuristic” sci-fi film set in some sort of quasi 1970’s depiction of the future, replete with archaic and outdated technology…as well as the era’s misogynistic views. SPACE STATION 76 can’t quite be labeled a downright spoof since the story and characters reach a level of heart tugging poignancy at times. Plotnick is able to make the film uproariously funny at times while simultaneously having a dramatic sincerity at its core. That’s a very tricky and daring dichotomy to pull off, but he mostly succeeds here.
film deals with, yes, an orbiting space station that’s overseen by
Captain Glenn (a rock solid Patrick Wilson, never playing things too
stoic, but not hamming it up too much either), who is mostly a lonely and
depressed alcoholic sexist that believes that woman have no place
residing in the same occupational space as him.
He’s also a very closeted homosexual, which may or may not
explain his penchant for outright hostility towards people…and women in
he realizes that Jessica (Liv Tyler) will become the ship’s new
lieutenant, Glenn is so upset and emotionally distraught that he makes Ron
Burgundy look like a radical feminist by direct comparison.
What turns him off even more is the fact that Jessica is a
strong-willed and independent minded soul that wins over many people in
for the rest of the ship's people? They’re a motley crew of perpetual screw-ups looking to eek
out an existence on the vessel. There’s
Misty (the very funny Marisa Coughlan) that chomps down on Valium in all
manners cringe worthy. She
has a daughter (Kylie Rogers) and husband Ted (Matt Boomer) that she
hardly has time for…mostly because she’s simply catering to her own
egomaniacal needs 24/7. Ted,
a ship technician, is deeply frustrated, both sexually and emotionally,
with his absentee wife…and also has to come to grips daily with living
with an artificial hand that hilariously looks like one of those old
school Nintendo Power Gloves. Needless
to say, Ted gets cozy with Jessica, but while this is happening Misty is
having an affair with Steve (Jerry O’Connell), whom just became a parent
alongside his wife Donna (Kali Rocha).
These space trekking people make the Earth-bound characters on DAYS
OF OUR LIVES look well adjusted.
STATION 76 looks sensational for its relative dime store budget.
The production design by Seth Reed and costumes by Sandra Burns
absolutely nail the groovy bellbottomed 1970’s aesthetic through and
through. Even tiny details
– like the curved picture tube TVs, corded phones, garish colors, and so
forth – do a bravura job of helping immerse viewers in this Bizarro
alternate universe look at tomorrow. Plotniuk also has some fun at the expense of how old sci-fi
films (and even some recent ones) try to be scientifically accurate, like,
for example, showing no sounds in the vacuum of space, but still having
characters smoke up in the confines of their space ship.
The station also has one of those obligatory automatic food
dispensers that instantly – without explanation – are able to give
patrons whatever food item they want.
Hell, there’s even a little R2D2-like robot psychiatrist that the
ship’s denizens constantly go to for advice…even though his
“helpful” words of wisdom sound like greeting card platitudes.
performances, as stated, hit their intended marks…which is kind of
incredible considering the wide tonal range the film’s traversing
across. I especially liked
Wilson’s turn as the Captain, whose own escalating sense of personal
failure, self-doubt, and anxiety becomes both amusing and sad at the same
time. His character also
helps prop up the film’s social-political satire: he thinks he’s an
advanced and progressive minded man, but clearly can’t come to grips
with his own homosexuality and the workplace encroachment of Jessica.
Liv Tyler in particular seems to fully understand the limitless
insanity of the film’s story, mood and premise, and plays her lieutenant
as if she were in just about any other “normal” drama, which helps
ground the film even during its most outlandish extremes.
The mostly stern-faced solemnity of Wilson and Tyler acts as a nice
foil to the more outright comedic performances by the other actors.
think that the real creative coup
de grace of SPACE STATION 76 is how it never condescends to all of the
people that reside on the vessel. They
are all messed up in one form or another, but Plotniuk never really holds
them up for derogatory spite, nor does he beg us to warm up to them and
like them for their damaged, warts-and-all personalities.
If anything, you kind of feel pity for some of these hapless
personas because they simply live in a perverted time warp within the film
where they simply don’t know any better.
The manner that Plotniuk and the actors make these characters
breathe as real flesh and blood participants in the story’s overt
wackiness helps SPACE STATION 76 rise above the simplistic moniker of a
spoof. It’s both funny and
melancholic in equal measures…but just when it risks getting too somber
Plotniuk throws in a wink-wink cameo by 2001’s Keir Dullea that made me howl with loving affection.
SPACE STATION 76 is strange hybrid, to be sure, that many lay filmgoing audiences looking for something more straightforward and perfunctory may not appreciate. However, if you journey into it with the right mindset and embrace its weirdness…then you’ll come out of it with a smile on your face.
I had a big grin, myself.