'I.S.S.' - In space no one can hear you scream

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday February 13, 2024
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Ariana DeBose in 'I.S.S. (photo: Bleecker Street Media)
Ariana DeBose in 'I.S.S. (photo: Bleecker Street Media)

One theory about movies released in the winter wasteland of January proposes that these flicks wouldn't be able to hold their own against others released during more popular movie-going months throughout the year. "I.S.S." (Bleecker Street), starring out Oscar-winning actor Ariana DeBose, does its part to shatter that myth.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Nick Shafir's screenplay is set in the near (and not totally improbable) future. "I.S.S." takes place aboard the International Space Station research facility where three American astronauts — Kira (DeBose), Gordon (Chris Messina), and Christian (John Gallagher, Jr.) — and three Russian cosmonauts — Nika (Masha Mashkova), Nicholai (Costa Ronin), and Alexi (Pilou Asbæk) — get along like old friends. Intended to be a symbol of US and Russian collaboration, the crew is warm and welcoming to Kira, the new addition.

Scientist Kira focuses on the mice that are part of her research, despite being told by one of the Russian scientists that experiments with small rodents don't end well. Nevertheless, Kira becomes acclimated to her surroundings, and a crew dinner involving the exchange of gifts (as well as the discouragement of political talk) is pleasant.

The next day, while in the cupola, which provides Kira with fantastic views, she sees what appear to be volcanic eruptions on earth. The other crew members join her as more explosions can be seen.

Soon Gordon receives a classified emergency transmission that says, "an act of war occurred between the US and Russian military," with other countries becoming involved. The American crew's new objective is to take control of the I.S.S. by any means necessary. Of course, the Russians have received a similar transmission.

Additionally, tech trouble, possibly caused by electromagnetic pulses from warheads, has put the I.S.S. in danger, and it begins an unplanned descent to Earth. As the war rages on below them, the crew is suddenly faced with its own smaller-scale war.

Trust and loyalty are put to the test. Other details begin to emerge, including the romantic relationship between Gordon and Nika. During a private conversation, Kira also comes out as a lesbian to Gordon. Most importantly, it is revealed that part of the research being done by the Russians involves a treatment for, you guessed it, radiation sickness, making it, and the accompanying notes, the most valuable asset on the I.S.S.

As you might imagine, there are alliances and clashes, and ultimately, a mounting body count. Long before Russia's war against Ukraine started, the prospects of the US and Russia ever peacefully coexisting were unlikely. Because of that, Russians make good cinematic adversaries, and except for only one of them on the I.S.S., that holds true. In other words, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale had nothing on these people. Rating: B


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