Film

Space Station 76 Is a Retro-Futuristic Curio

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Don’t expect many laughs from this retro-futuristic curio, which doesn’t really go for them, despite its parodic title and its ’70s insistence that in the far future, View-Masters would be cutting-edge communication tech.

Still, sympathetic audiences may be diverted by Space Station 76‘s period design and skilled performances, and by the mystery of what exactly the filmmakers are going for. (The less sympathetic may just ask what the point is.)

Instead, director Jack Plotnick’s debut mines the ’70s not just for an aesthetic of kitsch but also for a narrative mode: Imagine an Updike novel set in the pinwheeling station of 2001, a Valium-in-the-void take on marital blisslessness. With jokes: Scenes with a robot therapist are inspired riffs on rudimentary AI programming, and the movie never gets better than when Patrick Wilson’s closeted captain attempts suicide in an environment whose robo-intelligence prevents people from harming themselves. But most of the film is given to couples uncoupling, to adulterous drama too familiar to resonate but too straight to be comic.

Based on a play Plotnick scripted with stage actors, and still feeling at times like an improv-based black-box exploration, 76 stars a likable Liv Tyler as a new recruit stuck navigating the station’s hotbed of hot beds and chilled relationships. She clashes with a pill-addicted Misty (Marisa Coughlan) over Misty’s daughter and husband, and as she tends to her duties she must be careful never to show up Wilson’s captain, who, ’70s-style, expects women to act like women.

At a cocktail party, secrets come out; we’re somehow spared the image of keycards in a zero-G fishbowl. Overall, the film leans too much on tacky wallpaper, Todd Rundgren cuts, and Tyler’s radiant niceness.