Space Cadet (2024) Review: Emma Roberts Gleefully Embraces the Silliness of This Nonsensical Comedy

Writer-director Liz W. Garcia sure takes the familiar “fake it till you make it” aphorism both literally and figuratively and cranked it up to eleven in Space Cadet, marking her third directorial feature after The Lifeguard (2013) and One Percent More Humid (2017). It’s a dumb-as-hell comedy that suspension of disbelief is absolutely necessary to enjoy the movie’s ludicrous premise. And here’s what the movie is about: Tiffany “Rex” Simpson (Emma Roberts) has been dreaming of going to space one day as an astronaut since childhood. But after her mum (Natasha Warner) died, everything has changed. She has to give up her full-ride scholarship at Georgia Tech and ends up working as a bartender on a Florida beach.

Then, one day, she decided to pursue her lifelong dream after abandoning it in the first place. She passionately typed a letter to NASA and hoped for the best. But her heavily pregnant best friend, Nadine (Poppy Liu) figures the letter isn’t good enough to convince NASA. So, she exaggerated a bit (well, sort of) by changing her letter by adding some fake credentials and professional working experience without Rex’s knowledge.

The NASA officials led by Pam (Gabrielle Union) and Logan (Tom Hopper) soon scan through the applications. The former particularly wants a candidate that stands out the most. Someone brilliant and unconventional and that person turns out to be… Rex! Naturally, Rex is overjoyed when she gets the call to join the astronaut training programme at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Nadine, of course, didn’t expect Rex would go this far and she wanted to say something. Too late already since Rex is off to NASA and from there, she meets other candidates. This includes Violet (Kuhoo Verma), Dr Stacy (Desi Lydic), Miriam (Josephine Huang), Grace (Yasha Jackson) and Captain Jack (Andrew Call).

Emma Roberts, who also served as one of the executive producers, certainly embraced her role wholeheartedly. Her hyperactive performance, coupled with her immensely likeable persona made her fun to watch as she endured and improvised her way through the rigorous, yet challenging astronaut training programme. It helps that she has a few solid supports backing her up. This includes Poppy Liu, who has a field day impersonating different persons during Logan’s numerous calls for clarifications based on the “references” that she added to Rex’s resume.

Other supporting roles such as Kuhoo Verma, who plays Rex’s distraught roommate Violet and Desi Lydic as the cocky Dr Stacy deserve equal mention here. Even small roles like Dave Foley deliver hilariously deadpan as the head of NASA, Rudolph Bolton and Sam Robards excel in his delightful comic relief as Rex’s father, who runs a so-called ghost tour business for tourists.

Space Cadet is as silly as it gets and Liz W. Garcia knows it. The breezy pace helps and so do some of the entertaining wacky moments. Garcia also manages to slip in relevant themes of perseverance and teamwork amid the movie’s goofy comedy setup. At times, I can’t help but feel that Space Cadet could have belonged to a Disney Channel Original Movie back in the 2000s era (the Hilary Duff-starred Cadet Kelly in 2002 does come to mind) instead of a Prime Video movie.

Not everything in Space Cadet works as expected. Tom Hopper’s bespectacled Logan tends to make me think that he’s trying too hard to nail a role with a dorky personality. His on-screen chemistry with Emma Roberts barely clicks and there’s a karaoke segment that is meant to be funny, only to come across as embarrassingly awkward and I don’t mean it as a compliment. The special effects look tacky in some scenes, notably the glaringly obvious green-screen outdoor background while Rex and Violet walk in slow-motion.

Space Cadet is currently streaming on Prime Video.