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Paul Asay

Movie Review

Dreams? Later, gator.

Sure, Tiffany “Rex” Simpson has dreams. She’s got a big list of ‘em, in fact—somewhere under the unwashed shot glasses, maybe.

When Rex was a kid, even through high school, she was a little scientific dynamo—thinking outside the box, coming up with creative solutions, setting her little corner of Florida on fire. And she knew that all her talent and gumption and hard work would eventually send her to space. She wanted to be an astronaut in the worst way.

But then, another worst came a-calling. Her beloved mom died of cancer. Her dad was a mess. Rex turned town a full-ride college scholarship to hold things together back home. And by the time her father was ready to stand on his own again, Rex … well, it seemed like Rex kinda liked being home. She got a job as a bartender. She started wrestling alligators now and then. She could party with her friends any time she wanted.

Ten years later, she’s still bartending, still partying, still wrestling gators. A good life, right?

But then she and her best pal, Nadine, go to their class reunion and reconnect with a former classmate turned tech guru. And he has the gall to tell Rex that she was his inspiration. All throughout school, he was chasing to keep up with her.

So, Rex, what you been up to lately?

Well, that serves as a sledgehammer of a wakeup call. Rex is ready to get serious and recommit to the whole astronaut thing. Sure, she doesn’t have a college degree in mechanical engineering or marine biology or, well, anything. No, she doesn’t have a lot of applicable work experience. And yeah, she can’t fly a jet.

But she has big dreams, and she says as much on her application form. And that’s gotta be worth something, right?

Um, no. Nadine might not know a lot, but she knows that much. So when given the chance to look over Rex’s application, she decides to … improve it.

Next thing Rex knows, she’s getting a call from NASA, asking her to join 35 hopeful candidates in astronaut training. Rex—not knowing Nadine’s exercise in fibbery on her behalf, is thrilled that big dreams do count for something! She can’t wait to become an astronaut! And when she and her fellow space travelers return after a trip to Mars or whatnot, she has all the skills to mix a really excellent celebratory margarita.

Positive Elements

Turns out, dreams really do mean something. But it’s pretty clear to Rex that dreams alone won’t cut it. She’s well behind her competitors in, well, pretty much everything. But with help from her roommate, Violet Marie Vislawski, Rex begins to catch up. She learns a lot during her NASA training. That, combined with her out-of-the-box thinking and knack for building and holding together a team, serves her well.

But we still have the little issue of Rex’s top-to-bottom resume fabrication. While it was done initially without her knowledge, she ultimately embraces the lies to pursue her dream—and that’s not good. But the movie knows it’s not good, and that makes it … more good? Gooder?

“You would make a good astronaut, Rex,” an in-the-know Violet tells her. “But deceit never ends well.” It’s a bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come.

Spiritual Elements

Rex isn’t particularly religious, but she has a deep and slavish reverence for the universe and its mysterious ways. She talks about how everyone and everything is made out of stardust, which she takes to mean that she’s just as worthy as anyone else. She marvels at the universe’s perfect balance, and she takes that balance to mean that—maybe—whenever one party ends, another must begin somewhere. (Her friends find this rather profound and sweet.)

She even theorizes that (I think) somehow, she’s already an astronaut: Because everything is energy, the universe bounces that reality (that she’s already an astronaut) back to her as an idea (that she wants to become an astronaut). Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me, either, but Rex and the movie itself seem to buy into it, so maybe there’s something I’m not getting.

Oh, and in a moment of crisis, Rex even prays to the universe, too.

But she also has a vague sense that her mother is still with her. Rex talks often with her (even though her mom’s been gone 10 years), and someone reassures her that her mother is still around. (Whether he means that she’s now stardust herself, or whether it’s a bit more spiritual, the movie doesn’t let on.)

Rex’s father runs a touristy ghost tour business. “There’s been no actual ghosts—so far,” Rex notes. But Rex helps her pop manufacture “ghostly” occurrences for his paying customers: Banging windows, flickering lights, that sort of thing.

Someone may thank God for a safe landing (though the exact words were a bit hard to make out). The space trainees need to learn Russian; in class, one offers a greeting in the language to “your majestic celestial holiness” and offers her colleagues as a “sacrifice.”

In a postscript, we learn that one of the trainees underwent a religious experience and changed her name because of it (to “Dr. One Love”). A character wears a cross around her neck. Another kisses a medal he likewise wears. The Big Bang theory is mentioned. Someone hypnotizes herself to deal with several hours of isolation. A character wishes others “Godspeed.” Rex lights incense in a room near a picture of her mother.

Sexual Content

Rex and other female characters wear some moderately risqué garb that bares midriff, shoulder and cleavage. Nadine engages in a bit of twerking and exposes a lot of leg. Rex flirts with one of her NASA supervisors, a rather mystified Logan O’Leary. And when he reminds Rex that she’ll need to undergo a colonoscopy, Rex takes it as a come on.

When Rex encourages Violet to cut loose and relax a little, Violet awkwardly notes that she’s seen “some cute guys.” And then she adds, apparently in case Rex is interested, “and girls.” A couple of female trainees marvel at Pam Proctor, the head of the program, and mention that she has the highest IQ of any astronaut. “It’s so hot,” one of the women says. “I’d so agree,” the other adds. (Both, incidentally, wind up in relationships with men.)

A heterosexual couple kisses. A man proposes marriage to a woman. One of Rex’s male friends, whom we see in just a couple of scenes, dresses effeminately and seems to have long, painted nails. A male trainee dances with a female trainee at a bar, his head pressed into her chest. One trainee mentions that he’s divorced.

Violet mentions that she self-publishes romance novels; her main character for most of her books is a woman named Gwendoline, and Violet sometimes narrates bits of her adventures at times. (One involves Gwendoline unzipping a man’s “compartment” and slipping inside. (At the time, she’s in her own tent-like isolation compartment.)

Nadine is pregnant for much of the movie, but apparently not married. There’s a reference to mating egrets and syphilis.

Violent Content

Rex wrestles an alligator. A trainee falls flat on her face while running on a treadmill. A couple of trainees wrestle, and one gets water sprayed in her face. One character, who’s done a lot of work with penguins, hallucinates that one of her favorite subjects was eaten, and we see a brief video clip of a polar bear ripping into something. (That “something” does not look like a penguin, however.)

[Spoiler warning] Trainees, most now astronauts, experience a life-threatening emergency in space. One gets yanked off the outside of a spacecraft by a bit of debris tangled in her tether, but she survives.

Crude or Profane Language

The trainees are all technically “astronaut candidates.” That two-word descriptor is abbreviated to ASCAN when written, presumably—but when spoken, it sounds like something else entirely. It becomes a very frequent, and rather tiresome, running joke.

We hear four s-words and a handful of other profanities, including “d–n,” “h—,” “p-ss” and “d–k.” God’s name is misused about a dozen times. Another note: One of Rex’s favorite words is “fricking,” which is clearly a stand-in for another, harsher word. (Another, more explicit f-word is cut off in mid-stream.)

Drug and Alcohol Content

As mentioned, Rex is a bartender, and we see her mix plenty of drinks. (We see that she was also dubbed “Bartender of the Year” at some point.)

Rex gets progressively more tipsy, and more defensive, during her class reunion. (We see her and others drink what appears to be champagne.) She ropes several of her fellow trainees into going to a karaoke bar. (She tells one that there’s a “vast, vast world” out there, “a world full of bars.”) They all get pretty snockered, and some still show evidence of inebriation the following day. Rex and her colleagues later drink in celebration, though it’s unclear whether the beverages in question are alcoholic or not.

A program leader mentions that Rex would be fun to do “shrooms with.” A conspiratorial Nadine frets that if the government finds out about Rex’s lies, they’ll “force-feed you crack.” We hear a reference to raves.

Other Negative Elements

We hear a few references to “farts,” and someone mentions the need to urinate. Nods to colonoscopies occur more than you’d think in a movie like this.

But the biggest issue, of course, is the lying. Both Rex and Nadine lie big and lie repeatedly throughout the film. And those lies eventually put lives in danger, as we knew they would. Lying is a sin for a reason, but it’s especially heinous when those lies can literally hurt others: It’s one thing to say, yeah, you know how to use a word processing program when you don’t. It’s another thing to say you can fly a plane—then carry that lie into the cockpit with another person in tow.


Space Cadet, now streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video, is a mildly entertaining film that comes with a few kinda nice messages. It reminds us that we can pursue our dreams and goals—even if we’ve wasted a little more time than we should’ve. The story also stresses that reaching those dreams and goals requires some hard work. And it tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid to fail—a prerequisite to, as Rex does, reach for the stars.

Sure, it undercuts some of these messages for comedic purposes. Yeah, Rex works really hard for a few weeks—but that really can’t make up for 10 years of wasted time, right? But I think we can forgive Space Cadet for its literal flights of fancy.

What families might not find so forgivable, though, is its content issues.

While Rex may be looking to launch her own life and career into the stratosphere, she doesn’t turn away from some pretty revealing outfits, or her alcoholic crutches, or language that escapes an R-rating by just a couple of letters. Even as some messages reach a comfortable orbit, its problems pull it back down to earth. And as likable as star Emma Roberts might be, I kinda wish that her character went through a greater metamorphosis—one that encouraged her to grow up in more ways than in just her work ethic.

Space Cadet has its merits. And I think it can be an encouragement to some viewers to use our God-given talents more fully. But the movie’s misfires will keep it from many a family—even those that could use the encouragement.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.