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Film Review: ‘Space Station 76’

A low-key indie comedy that deftly mixes '70s attitudes and futuristic sci-fi.

With:

Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlan, Kylie Rogers, Kali Rocha, Jerry O’Connell, Keir Dullea.

In space, everyone one can hear you kvetch. That appears to be standard operational procedure aboard “Space Station 76,” an intergalactic deadpan farce that suggests a daft mashup of “The Ice Storm” and “Space: 1999.” With the aid of ensemble players who maintain admirably straight faces amid the absurdity, director Jack Plotnick gets an impressive amount of mileage from a concept — characters in a futuristic sci-fi setting evince 70s angst and attitudes — that might seem at first blush barely adequate to sustain a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. This low-key indie comedy could live long and prosper on homescreen platforms.

Working from a script he and four fellow writers originally conceived for the stage, Plotnick establishes a tone of seriocomic soap-operatics in the early scenes while introducing the diversely dysfunctional crew of the Omega 76 Space Station.

Sexually repressed Capt. Glenn (Patrick Wilson, first among equals in a fine cast) is by turns inconsolably glum and inappropriately hostile while mooning for a reassigned comrade. Misty (Marisa Coughlan) pops Valium, spouts New Age aphorisms and avoids sexual contact with Ted (Matt Bomer of TV’s “White Collar”), her increasingly frustrated technician husband. The aggressively chipper Donna (Kali Rocha) seems content in her marriage to Steve (Jerry O’Connell), the father of her infant child. She’s too busy, or too clueless, to note that Steve is having an affair with Misty.

Long-simmering emotions and resentments start bubbling to the surface with the arrival of a new second-in-command, Jessica Marlowe (Liv Tyler), a seemingly self-assured professional who nonetheless comes equipped with her own share of hangups. The already unstable Capt. Glenn has trouble accepting a woman as his equal — yes, this is the future, but it’s a future based on ’70s sexual and workplace politics — while the self-absorbed Misty resents Jessica’s budding friendship with Sunshine (Kylie Rogers), Misty’s neglected young daughter. But Ted has no trouble at all welcoming his beautiful new crewmate.

Aiming more for bemused chuckles than for convulsive laughter, Plotnick and his actors deftly evoke a faux Me Decade ambiance throughout “Space Station 76.” Indeed, given the period-appropriate production values, it will be easy, and amusing, for some viewers to pretend this actually is a sci-fi melodrama that was produced during the ’70s — possibly to complete a double feature with “Logan’s Run” or “Silent Running” — but only recently unearthed and released.

Plotnick also includes a couple of wink-wink nods to genuine sci-fi classics, such as a clever cameo by “2001: A Space Odyssey” star Keir Dullea, or an R2-D2-like droid that serves as a pill-dispensing psychiatrist. Even funnier, though, are the off-the-wall moments that simply emphasize the disparity between dialogue rife with ’70s-flavored banalities — “Your whole vibe is just stressing me!” — and the day-after-tomorrow environment provided by production designer Seth Reed and costume designer Sandra Burns. Predictably, but effectively, the soundtrack abounds with slyly selected ’70s tunes by Todd Rundgren and other artists.

Film Review: ‘Space Station 76’

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Visions), March 14, 2014. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production:

A Rival Pictures/Om Films production. Produced by Katherine Ann McGregor, Joel Michaely, Dan Burks, Edward Parks, Rachel Ward. Executive producers, Niraj Bhatia, Frank Mele. Co-producers, Jim Burba, Bob Hayes. Co-executive producers, Ramesh Bhatia, Jack Plotnick. 

Crew:

Directed by Jack Plotnick. Screenplay, Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Plotnick, Kali Rocha, Michael Stoyanov, based on their play. Camera (color), Robert Brinkmann; editor, Sharon Rutter; music, Steffan Fantini, Marc Fantini; production designer, Seth Reed; art director, Jennifer Moller; set decorator, Kat Wilson; costume designer, Sandra Burns; sound, John C. Taylor; visual effects supervisor, Billy Brooks; associate producers, Billy Brooks, Melodi Hallenbeck, Alexander Koehne, Ilana Marks;  assistant director, Jeremy Phoenix; casting, Eric Souliere. 

With:

Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlan, Kylie Rogers, Kali Rocha, Jerry O’Connell, Keir Dullea.

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