Skip to main content
film review


Directed by Johan Renck

Written by Colby Day, based on the novel Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

Starring Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan and Paul Dano

Classification PG; 107 minutes

Streaming on Netflix starting March 1

Alert the engineers toiling deep inside Netflix: the Adam Sandler algorithm is broken.

Typically, the Sandman works on a 3:1 ratio for the streamer. As in: three sloppy comedies (say, Hubie Halloween, Murder Mystery 2, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah) for every one solid drama (Hustle). It is a formula balancing comfort with curiosity, affording Sandler the required downtime to prepare himself for actual cinematic exertion. But with the new film Spaceman, something has gone off-course.

The sci-fi drama has all the hallmarks of a Serious Sandler project: it is based on an acclaimed novel by Czech author Jaroslav Kalfar, features prestige-level co-stars in Carey Mulligan and Paul Dano, and slaps a scraggly beard on Sandler (facial hair being one of the key markers that the actor isn’t going to merely yuck it up with David Spade and company; see Adam’s goatee in Uncut Gems or his mustache in The Meyerowitz Stories). Yet the whole thing lands with the softest, most disappointing kind of thud – the Sandler-shtick equivalent of yelling, “I’m being serious here!” until you’re too hoarse for anyone to pay much attention.

The actor stars as Jakub, a Czech astronaut sent to the distant reaches of space to study a cloud of mysterious purple star dust that might be threatening Earth’s existence. With South Korean astronauts apparently hot on his tail, Jakub must complete his solitary mission while reckoning with the dissolution of his marriage to Lenka (Mulligan) back home. Not to mention the arrival of an ancient extraterrestrial arachnid Jakub nicknames Hanus (voiced by Dano), who suddenly takes residence inside the space capsule.

Languidly paced and smothered by a Hans Zimmer-lite score meant to push a kind of faux-profundity onto the proceedings, director Johan Renck’s film has a deadly serious tone that never feels justified. Colby Day’s script gives the game away early, too, when Jakub is asked by a little girl during a press teleconference what it’s like to be the loneliest man in the world. Being alone is hard, marriage is hard, dealing with space-spiders who have a taste for Nutella is hard, I guess. It doesn’t take another hour and a half to figure out where Jakub’s journey is going, which is of course nowhere at all.

Settling for a kind of somnambulant energy, Sandler tries to make Jakub’s obvious pain – the disconnection that afflicts him whether he is on Earth or 500 million miles away – wrenching and real. But the actor never bothers to ignite the inner burners here, bringing the same kind of shrug-worthy energy as he would to any of his C-level Happy Madison comedies.

Mulligan, playing another unjustly ignored wife just a few months after doing the same in Maestro, puts in a little more effort than her co-star – including the flicker of an actual Czech accent. But it’s Dano who floats away with the most goodwill, giving Hanus a tender, ultimately haunting air despite being, you know, a horrendously frightening creature that, in a parallel universe, might’ve inspired Stephen King to write It.

Until the next 3:1 go-round, then, Sandler.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe