The signs to be hopeful were all there: A pair of dependable movie stars, a bullish Oscar-season spot on the release calendar, a director hot off of an Oscar-nominated film. But alas, Passengers is not very good. In fact, it’s pretty bad. The studio is positioning this new Chris Pratt-Jennifer Lawrence sci-fi flick as a sort of Adam-and-Eve riff on The Martian. Two passengers on a space ship headed to a distant colony called Homestead II are woken up 90 years before they should be. Something with their hibernation pods goes wrong and now they’re stranded together and alone. They have to figure out a way to survive – and if sparks fly while they’re hurtling through space, well, all the better. That’s the way the trailer makes it seem, at least. And I’ll be honest, that’s a movie I’d kind of want to see. But that’s not what we get. Not even close. Passengers is way stupider than that. If you’d like to know how much more stupid, keep reading. BUT BE WARNED: SPOILERS FOR THE FILM’S FIRST HALF LAY AHEAD…
The film starts with some mediocre special effects of a spaceship called Avalon slicing through meteor showers on its way to Homeland II—”the jewel of the Occupied Worlds.” There are 258 crewmembers and 5,000 passengers aboard. The ship is damaged and while it’s trying to repair itself, one hibernation pod flickers its lights on. It belongs to Pratt’s Jim Preston. Groggy and confused, this hunky mechanic slowly awakens. But where are the others? Jim realizes his fate and goes through the various stages of grief, depression, and montage-friendly hedonism that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen The Last Man On Earth (or a hundred other sci-fi end-of-the-world castaway yarns). The only company Jim has is a droll, Shining-like android bartender played Michael Sheen—the film’s only (yes, only) bright spot. His name is Arthur, and he should get his own series on FX.
Since Jim is a mechanic he does his best to “work the problem” Matt Damon style. But he’s doomed. But not as doomed as the film is about to become because it can’t make up its mind if it wants to cater to Pratt’s comic instincts or go someplace more serious and existential. Yes, its possible to do both as Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks did in Cast Away. But that takes a level of fine-tuned dexterity that director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) doesn’t have here. The movie keeps jerking from tone to tone until you end up feeling like you’re weightlessly drifting in zero gravity. Plus, what you’re probably wondering now is: Where the hell is Jennifer Lawrence in all of this? Good question.
Lawrence is still asleep. She’s one of the thousands of passengers whose little gee-whiz sleep coffin is still functioning. But Pratt is lonely. And she sure is pretty. So he decides to wake her up—effectively giving her a death sentence along with him. Well, so much for rooting for our hero! Lawrence plays Aurora Lane (a name that could only belong to a character in a bad movie or an adult film), a journalist who wakes up thinking that Jim is her savior when, in fact, he’s her…there’s really no other word for it, he’s her captor. It’s profoundly creepy. And the problem is, the movie doesn’t even know how profoundly creepy it is. It’s Boxing Helena in space. Of course, she’s in the dark about his whole stalker-y charade—and he’s certainly not telling—so she begins to fall for him. How sweet. But it’s not. It’s really not at all. Eventually, though, Arthur spills the beans. And man, is she angry!
Yet more spoilers…
Believe it or not, there are more twists and about half a movie left after this, but none of it is very interesting, nor can it get the foul taste out of your mouth about Pratt’s unredeemable character. It doesn’t help the film’s whole female-victimization vibe either that Lawrence is relegated to being a pretty helpless damsel in distress when the Avalon’s systems start to fail. She’s way too good of an actress to be told to look scared and shout lines like “What does that mean?!” when technical terms are thrown around, and “Jim, how do we fix this?!” while Pratt tries to win her back with his can-do heroism. She’s stuck in what essentially amounts to a risable two-hour exhibit of sci-fi Stockholm Syndrome. But cheer up, even the best movie stars need to make a howler like this every once in a while. It makes us appreciate the good ones more.
Okay, it’s safe to read again:
To recap, 1.) Passengers is bad. 2.) Michael Sheen is great. 3.) As for the rest, save your money. D+