As a space-opera lampoon, Space Station 76 is incoherent primarily because it’s never clear what director Jack Plotnick and the film’s five credited screenwriters are attempting to spoof. Set aboard a spaceship with interiors resembling the Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film features Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson), whose mustache, chain-smoking, and predilection for drinking while on the job places him within the film’s attempted anachronistic paradox, where “a galaxy far, far away” is actually the dregs of a 1970s social zeitgeist past. The concept takes literal form early on, as crewmate Misty (Marisa Coughlan) has a therapy session with a robot that struggles to articulate the balance between “then” and “now,” and with the several ’70s rock ballads on the soundtrack, as the ship aimlessly whips through space.
Yet, Plotnick has little sense of how to make any of these jokes cohere around a larger, more directed social or genre critique. A scene between Misty and Jessica (Liv Tyler), in which they debate the duties of motherhood, dances with second-wave feminist rhetoric and a particularly ’50s brand of baby fever, but there’s no sense that the prolonged bickering is in service of anything other than the immediacy of the back and forth itself. That goes for other prolonged, curious moments, such as when Ted (Matt Bomer) stops to leer at a naked Tinkerbell-like fairy floating outside of his window or that Jessica’s dad (Keir Dullea) can’t figure out how far to distance himself from the camera to interface-chat with his daughter. Even more curious is that Plotnick rarely raises the film’s temperature above a low boil; it wisely avoids becoming hysterical or using slapstick, but neither is it pointed, insightful, or even particularly discernible. That sense is amplified by the film’s utter lack of narrative, since there are no contexts given whatsoever for the crew’s endeavors or mission statements, much less an explanation for the time-period motivations driving any of the proposed humor. Instead, it’s as if each scene exists in a vacuum, detached from an intelligible whole that would bestow at least nominal weight to the proceedings.
Most perplexing of all, the film turns to Glenn’s closeted homosexuality in its final third, an inclusion that’s merely used for hollow technological gags, such as him masturbating to a partially recorded message of his lover’s voice and a miniature, animated hologram that takes the form of his presumably human lover. Only the most nodal thematic connections or points can be ascertained here, as they’re only vaguely reminiscent via repression of the maternal conversation earlier. Likewise, jokes involving Valium overdoses and a faked case of lupus are haphazardly integrated and to no comedic avail. Space Station 76 is a postmodern snafu of the most intolerable sort, the kind of hokum that increases one’s appreciation for successful comedic cultural critique, if only for the severity of this film’s failures.