Thursday, January 18, 2024

I.S.S.: The Wrong Stuff

Gene Roddenberry would be very disappointed in the 21st Century. Political differences have not melted away in space, but it hardly matters, since as a nation, we have largely lost our drive for space exploration. To reach the International Space Station (ISS) we currently must hitch a ride with the Russians. Reportedly, Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has not yet affected relations on the station, but when a full-scale nuclear war breaks out below, all bets are off in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s I.S.S., which opens Friday in theaters.

Marine Corp officer and research scientist Dr. Kira Foster is starting her first rotation on the I.S.S., accompanying the returning Christian Campbell (Air Force). They are joining American Captain Gordon Barrett and Russians Weronika Vetrov, Alexey Pulov, and their captain Nicholai Pulov. It soon becomes apparent the international relations are exceptionally warm between Barrett and Petrov. Regardless, everyone assures her they check their politics at the station hatch.

Then both teams get stealth messages from Earth, instructing them their respective nations are at war and to take control of the I.S.S., by any means necessary. Unfortunately, while the Americans are still stuck in what-the-heck mode, Pulov launches into action. In retrospect, this would not be a good time for a solo American space-walk.

Regardless, the Americans find themselves a crewmember down. However, the resulting guilt and anger stokes dissension among the Russians. In fact, Foster is approached by one of them regarding a secret revelation.

I.S.S., the station environment looks convincingly realistic. The “Winds of Change” karaoke business is also a smart reference to the supposed Cold War’s peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, a pathetically weak lead undermines the film’s credibility.

Not for one second can we believe Ariana Debose’s Foster is a Marine, because she never acts like one. Perhaps the fault lies in Nick Shafir’s script, but a real Marine would never be so passive, reserved, deferential, or indecisive. Marines are drilled to take immediate action in times of crisis, even if it is the wrong action, because it is harder to hit a moving target. Yet, Foster just sits around, waiting for somebody to tell her what to do. Trust me, I’ve known some Marines, starting with my grandfather. Debose has the wrong stuff.

It is a shame Debose’s character is forced into this film, like a square peg in a round hole, because Chris Messina and Masha Mashkova are terrific as Barrett and Petrov, creating an intriguing romantic relationship. Pilou Asbaek also brings surprising complex dimensions to the hulking Alexey.

Unfortunately, all the goodwill the supporting cast and effects and design crew bring to the film is undone by the third act twist we all know is coming, wherein an American character reveals a not-so hidden villainous nature. We all know you will never see this behavior attributed to the Russian military in a Russian film, but apparently Cowperthwaite and Shafir were willing to offer Putin the propaganda assistance. Seriously, this is how they present the American military to the world. It isn’t helping and it leaves a bad taste. Not recommended,
I.S.S. releases tomorrow (1/19) nationwide.