FILM REVIEW — “I.S.S.” devolves into cavemen in space 

Published 12:02 am Friday, January 19, 2024

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LD Entertainment

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Starring Ariana DeBose, Chris Messina, Masha Mashkova, Costa Ronin, Pilou Asbæk and John Gallagher, Jr.

Rated R

2 Stars

I’ve always assumed astronauts are chosen because of their intelligence and ability to remain calm in any situation.

Apparently that assumption is incorrect, or at least that’s the case that’s being made by the new science fiction thriller, “I.S.S.”

This movie imagines a situation where World War III breaks out while American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts are working together on the International Space Station. It’s hard to keep your mind on work when you can look out the window and see nuclear bombs exploding 250 miles below.

It’s even harder to do so when both teams receive encoded messages to take control of the space station for their country, “by any means necessary.”

It’s at this point when these supposedly intelligent and poised astronauts begin doing stupid things and losing control of their abilities to deal dispassionately with the situation at hand.

They might suspect that a fight is about to erupt between the crews, but instead of talking about the situation, one of the astronauts decides to head outside for a spacewalk, where he neglects to tether himself to the structure.

What could possibly go wrong?

Or how about the moment when their communication system is mysteriously severed?

All of the astronauts are in the room together, except for one cosmonaut off working by himself. Yet nobody wonders if he might be the one behind the sabotage.

These are smart people?

It shouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what’s going on here.

Unfortunately, this is cinema logic that’s related to what we get in horror movies when teenagers decide to hide in a basement when they are being stalked by a serial killer.

The obvious course of action in this film would be to put national loyalties aside and work together for survival, but then there wouldn’t be anything left for the story.

If you’re making a movie about Americans and Russians fighting to the death on a cramped space station, then you must give audiences that fight.

To the filmmaker’s credit, I did enjoy the tense atmosphere that builds as the teams prepare for battle. And the violence that erupts is thrilling.

Viewed as a simple fight story, “I.S.S.” works well enough. Nevertheless, I roll my eyes at the thought of these highly trained astronauts devolving so easily into primitive cavemen fighting for survival.

Perhaps this wouldn’t have seemed like such a flaw if we’d been given the time to get some backstory from these six characters. It’s hard to care about who will live and who will die when you don’t really know any of the characters in the fight.

Even Ariana DeBose, the film’s nominal protagonist isn’t given any reason to make the audience care about her survival other than she’s the most-famous actor in the cast.

It’s not all bad. The production design is solid, providing just enough moments of weightlessness to make you believe that the story is set in outer space.

I also liked the film’s musical moments, which sometimes seems to bring more emotion to the story than any of the actors. And I loved that the film runs a brief hour-and-a-half, so that it’s non-stop action right up to the final moments.

The problem is “I.S.S” would have benefitted from a few more scenes to explain what was happening on Earth and to show us why we should care about these astronauts.

I think the premise is pretty good, but the filmmaking and writing is decidedly mediocre. I expected more from a movie that features such (theoretically) intelligent characters. This story turns into cavemen in space far too quickly.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia. Sean welcomes your comments via email at