Cosmic Clara remains earthbound

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      Starring Patrick J. Adams. Rated PG

      As a sci-fi–minded character study, Clara doesn’t lack ambition. But even its most earthbound ideas fail to find real footing. The movie probably needed more money, better actors, and zippier special effects to compete in the stargazing category. But what it’s most obviously missing, ironically enough, is imagination. It fails to envision a story, let alone a world, not built upon embattled-loner clichés and exhausted gender stereotypes.

      Edmonton-born writer-director Akash Sherman is young, but already has a long-standing interest in scientific and philosophical ideas. His first feature, 2015’s The Rocket List, was about the need to preserve human knowledge before losing the planet—a concept that grows more prescient with every fast-passing year. Sherman’s follow-up is about the compulsions to make contact with alien life—“illegal” or otherwise. Shot in Toronto, Clara offers Suits lead Patrick J. Adams as Dr. Isaac Bruno, an astrophysicist so dedicated to searching the stars he gets fired from his university gig for hogging too much telescope time. (We’re not told, but maybe that’s why his ex-wife dumped him, too.)

      So sure is he that he’s discovered some breakthrough data, the neatly bearded and bespectacled astronomer sets up his own operation at home. He advertises for an assistant to help track data—because, let’s face it, most space work is mathematical plotting—and seemingly gets just one reply: from a dark-haired free spirit called Clara (Troian Bellisaro, of Pretty Little Liars). She has no experience with scientific stuff, but has done some pretty neat cosmic paintings.

      The woman whose first name suggests transparency and light owns no last name, although she does have an unspecified disease—not that she shares this with her new boss. He’s all numbers and logic, and she’s all about feeling and intuition. Women are from Venus, men are from Mississauga. But hey, she can start tonight, and needs a place to stay. Our guy’s skeptical, but pretty soon she’s the apple of Isaac’s eye. (The fact that they’re a couple in real life actually makes this slightly creepier, like metaphysical cosplay.)

      Sherman’s own interest in space exploration seems genuine enough, and he comes up with attractive images on a limited budget. But the notion of stuffy dude magically transformed by a disposable female would be beyond tired even if the main cast had sufficient charisma and marquee value. Sometimes you have to recognize what’s in front of you before staring up at the sky.