‘Space Cadet’ is a silly sendup of NASA’s serious astronaut training program (review)

Who hasn’t wanted to be an astronaut at some point in their life?

If you’re looking for a realistic look into what it takes to don a blue flight suit and fly into the final frontier, this isn’t it. No serious space junkie or accomplished astronaut would ever brand Prime Video’s “Space Cadet” as an accurate account of NASA’s or any other space agency’s official astronaut candidate program, but that’s exactly what makes this fluffy new cartoonish space comedy from writer/director Liz  W. Garcia acceptably charming.

Lighting its fuse and launching on July 4 for the holiday weekend, “Space Cadet” is the lightweight family-style filler to watch after the fireworks have subsided and the BBQ coals have cooled.

This sunny, feel-good film brings to mind those daffy screwball comedies of yesteryear or more modern “against all odds” flicks like “Legally Blonde.” Think “‘Clueless’ in Space” and you’re close to the tone here. Its basic storyline requires a monumental suspension of disbelief as a hard-partying young woman named Rex tries to realize her lifelong dream to become an astronaut and unknowingly submits a doctored NASA application that goes far beyond her lame accomplishments.

None of this is supposed to represent the rigorous fitness tests, scientific acumen, psychological screening, and background checks NASA goes through to weed out candidates in their actual selection process, but it’s a fun “What-If” fantasy to invoke a few amusing situations that don’t require much in the arena of critical thought.

Tom Hopper and Pam Proctor co-star in “Space Cadet” (Image credit: Prime Video)

“Space Cadet” stars Emma Roberts (“American Horror Story”) as Tiffany “Rex” Simpson, a trashy bartender in Cocoa Beach, Florida serving liquid libations to vacationers and wrestling alligators. Once upon a time she had far grander aspirations to become an astronaut, coaxed on by her free-spirit mom before she passed way, causing Rex to drop out of Georgia Tech to help care for her father.

After attending her ten year high school reunion, she realizes it’s not to late to strive for something more and submits an application to NASA’s Astronaut Training Program that’s been substantially embellished by her friend Nadine (Poppy Liu). 

Over at the Johnson Space Center, Program Directors and former astronauts Logan O’Leary (Tom Hopper) and Gabrielle Union (Pam Proctor) are poring through a stack of applications and are impressed with Rex’s unconventional resume that includes creating canal gates to help protect endangered manatees.  A minute later, she’s in! 

Joining her fellow candidates in Houston with nary a Google search by NASA to verify her claims, Rex settles into a nine-week routine to test mental and physical stamina, learn to speak Russian, fly a fighter jet, and absorb the layout of the International Space Station modules. Roberts’ feminist schtick does begin to become somewhat grating about half-way though the film’s overlong runtime, but if you’re used to Hallmark’s Xmas fare, you already have the fortitude to make it to the splashdown.

A young woman in an astronaut suit and helmet

Emma Roberts provides raw energy as an unlikely astronaut in Prime Video’s “Space Cadet” (Image credit: Prime Video)

Anyone who has recently watched the Fox reality TV series “Stars on Mars” might be feeling a bit of deja-vu while watching “Space Cadet,” and it’s hard to believe that any real-life NASA employees would ever act or talk in the simpleton manners depicted.  

Once we finally do get into orbit after Rex is finally revealed to be a huge fraud, a formulaic accident on the ISS strands the four winning astronauts (who apparently get to launch into orbit immediately upon graduation). Incredulously, Rex is the only one on the planet who can deliver a solution so she hitches a ride on a former classmate’s rocket to perform a poorly-filmed spacewalk and repair the damage.

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Plausibility, common sense, background checks, and simple logic never figure into the “Space Cadet” screenplay as this ditzy ride eventually fizzles out under the weight of its own forced humor and predictable romantic unions. Not to say that it’s not mildly entertaining as a harmless sort of “Space Camp” fairy tale to pass the time as you decide how to spend the remainder of your long 4th of July holiday weekend.

“Space Camp” is streaming now on Prime Video.