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Spaceman review – Adam Sandler consoled by unscary giant spider in deep space

<span>Unscary Alien … Spaceman. </span><span>Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix</span>
Unscary Alien … Spaceman. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix

Here’s an existential sci-fi wearing its influences and its supposed humour really heavily, as if entering some super-gravitational force field. It is adapted by screenwriter Colby Day from the absurdist Czech novel Spaceman of Bohemia and directed by Johan Renck, who has lately worked mostly on television, notably on the Chernobyl drama series. The resulting Netflix movie is a lifeless space oddity about a commercially sponsored Czech mission to the stars, whose astronaut has to repeat the ad slogans in his radio contact with Earth, always a laboured type of satire.

This Czech spaceman is quirkily and improbably sent out to the far reaches of the galaxy to investigate clouds of glowing particles hanging around from the big bang. But all those months alone in space bring him to the edge of insanity, and he begins to hallucinate that a huge spider is in the spaceship, talking therapeutically about the spaceman’s failing marriage. Or maybe the spider is real.

But there are no Czech actors in the film and so the comedy of non-Americanness and non-Nasaness in this Czech space mission is lost, and even the implied Tarkovskian mock-Solaris pastiche doesn’t quite work either. Adam Sandler is the haggard and bearded Jakub up there in space, and Carey Mulligan is his pregnant wife Lenka down on the home planet, broodingly hanging round the gloomy house; her video message to her husband that she is leaving him is suppressed by the flight commander at mission control, played by Isabella Rossellini. The enormous spider, voiced by Paul Dano, keeps on addressing Jakub as “skinny human” – odd, as the spider is much skinnier than the human. How many humans has the spider seen?

The ostensible humour is assigned of course to this enormous talkative arachnid, like a twee unscary version of Alien. Sanders and Mulligan get no funny lines of any sort, a shame as we know that they can both play comedy. (And Rossellini was in 30 Rock.) As Jakub’s craft drifts out into the golden-hour sunset-hued nimbus clouds of stars, the apparent transcendent experience triggers flashbacks to the first moments of his relationship with Lenka, and we go into a sub-Malick trance. As for Lenka, her role is woefully under-written and under-imagined; we don’t really know or feel how she could have fallen in love with Jakub, or why exactly she’s fallen out of love with him – or why she seems now, as part of some cosmic-epiphanic miracle of intergalactic sympathy, to be kind of falling back in love with him all over again. It’s a spaceflight to nowhere.

• Spaceman screened at the Berlin film festival. It is released on 23 February in US and UK cinemas, and on 1 March on Netflix.