Stream or skip?

Anyone who ever wanted to start Naturally blond into space could almost be happy about the general direction Space Cadet (now streaming on Amazon Prime Video), which takes the formula of overachievers and stupidity from Harvard to NASA. Emma Roberts plays a terminally deluded party girl from Florida who overcomes all odds—and all common sense and plausible scripts—and makes it to Space Camp, where she tries to infect serious people with her peppy, margarita-swilling charm. Of course, as the cliche dictates, this character isn't REALLY as stupid as she looks and acts, and is actually quite smart, but I can't say the same for NASA, which is portrayed here as a clown show of idiots. Not that anyone is watching this movie for an accurate reflection of reality, but suffice it to say that it's more like a fairy tale than anything else, so you may want to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Space Cadet: STREAM OR SKIP?

The essentials: That wide-eyed look is NOT the result of not enough oxygen between her ears. No, Tiffany “Rex” Simpson (Roberts) always wanted to be an astronaut, and that glassy expression is just her gaze staring deep, deep, deep into the sea of ​​stars above. Look at all her childhood scrapbooks, full of cute cutouts of her countless inventions and construction-paper manifestations of her dreams, and now look at that flashback scene of her and her mom sitting on the hood of a car watching a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. She's racked up the science fair blue ribbons and even got accepted to Georgia Tech. Except now she's in her late 20s, and the only science she practices is margarita mixology. She's a bartender by trade. She seems to be a little bit high almost permanently, and that would be even more the case if the movie was an R instead of PG-13. She's partying on the beach with her best friend Nadine (Poppy Liu). She wrestles alligators. She wears bathing suits even when she's not at the beach or the pool. WHAT HAPPENED?

You could say Florida happened to her, and it happened to her very difficultand maybe you're on the right track. But it's also a sad story. Rex's mother got cancer just before graduation and college had to wait. And then Mom died and college never happened, so she learned the marg business and helps her father (Sam Robards) with his fraudulent ghost tour business. What snaps her out of this kind of happily empty rut that seems quite specific to the residents of America's Wang? A conversation with a former classmate named Toddrick (Sebastian Yatra), who says her wacky way of thinking inspired him to start his highly successful civilian space company. OK! Whatever you say, Toddrick! And now this story is a bit like the Frog Prince, but instead of a woman kissing a frog and waking the prince, a man talks to an alligator-fighting woman about how to get butts into orbit and in the process awakens their long-dormant passion.

So Rex applies to space camp and, you'll never believe this, she actually gets accepted. How? She has no degree, no credentials, no training, no experience. But Nadine got her hands on the application and stuffed it with lies and fabrications without Rex's knowledge, and Rex doesn't ask any questions when she gets accepted, and NASA apparently doesn't do background checks, possibly because you only need about two months of training before you get sent to the space station, so, you know, why bother? Rex gets to Houston and fakes it, befriends other weirdos and makes enemies with the stiff jobs, sparks a little romantic chemistry with NASA guy Logan O'Leary (Tom Hopper), and endures four montages in the first hour of the film alone. (Four! I counted!) How long will it be before things get dicey? Long enough to criticize the many flaws in NASA's astronaut vetting process, and I would know.

Photo: Everett Collection

What movies will it remind you of?: Space Cadet is not interesting enough to The Beach Bum meets Beavis and Butt-Head make the universe with a dab Heavyso we are stuck with Naturally blond meets SpaceCamp with a dab Apollo-13.

Remarkable performance: There's a lot to like about Roberts' performance; she goes to great lengths to ensure that Rex isn't an annoying and obnoxious protagonist. But the script doesn't give Rex enough detail and idiosyncrasies to make her more than just a simple movie character.

Memorable dialogue: A family touring NASA facilities spots Rex in all her neon-soaked, over-the-top trucker cap glory:

Child: Mom, is that an astronaut?

Mom: Not with my tax money.

Sex and skin: None.

Our statement: Space Cadet is the kind of movie that benefits immensely from the space campers being labeled with the acronym ASCANS, and I can't remember what that stands for, and it doesn't really matter, because it's pronounced “ass cans” and repeated so many times that it's like a third-grader on the playground who's learned a new rude word and uses it at every opportunity. The whole movie seems to work against Roberts's Herculean attempts to make us like the movie: It's not funny enough to distract us from the plot's plausibility problems. The script doesn't try hard enough to be funny, so the cast has to try too hard to make it's funny. It indulges in cutaway jokes and animated visual flourishes until it realizes that such things disrupt the narrative flow, so it abandons them in favor of monotony. The montages – the montages! They are everywhere. And it contains the agonizing line: “One small step for Rex, one giant leap for Florida.”

Is “excruciate” a verb? If so, then this movie will torture you. I feel bad saying that because Roberts puts so much effort into molding a recognizable character out of a handful of cliches thrown into a paper bag with a big hole in the bottom. You'll spend half the movie trying to figure out if Rex is actually smart or if she's the fool In femininity. Both can be absolutely true – she can be a genius astronaut and a dimwit, and thus a reflection of the mysterious contradictions of human nature. But to be a true reflection of the mysterious contradictions of human nature, a person needs a specific character, deep personality components that embody universality while highlighting the nearly infinite psychobiological variations of personality. That's a long, annoying way of saying that Rex is boring and generic, and even an unholy Frankenstein version of Streep and Hepburn would have trouble elevating her above a quasi-feminist “go girl, dream it and do it” stereotype on greeting cards.

I know. What am I supposed to expect from a light comedy? It's just a piece of streaming content meant to distract us from our everyday worries. But there's just too much streaming content out there that doesn't feel so derivative (entire story beats are taken from Naturally blondor so it seems), and doesn't waste the talents of its cast (Gabrielle Union as a NASA geek, Desi Lydic as Rex's nemesis), and doesn't look so flat and cheap (those space effects – yuck), and doesn't feel like it's weaponizing montages. Again: Four of them! In the first hour! Space! Where no one can hear your screams!

Our call: Wrap Space Cadet into ham and feed it to the alligators. SKIP IT.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.