Friday, December 23, 2016

Space Sham: “Passengers” Is Barely Worth the Trip

If any two actors today could make a movie watchable it's Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. They're pretty decent in “Passengers” but the script doesn't really do them any favors. Both play passengers aboard a luxury spaceship who wake up nearly 90 years early from hibernation meaning they'll be dead before they get to their destination if they don't figure out how to get back to sleep. Director Morten Tyldum hot off his Oscar nominated Hollywood debut “The Imitation Game” directs his actors well but the script makes odd choices along the way leading to an underwhelming final act that is filled with eye-rolling sci-fi cliches. The saving grace are the lead actors, the glossy production design, and Thomas Newman's beautiful score.

“Passengers” is actually pretty different from what the trailers would make you believe. One plot point is actually pretty well hidden which is a good thing; however, the plot point that ends up driving the film's story doesn't quite work which sort of sours the rest of the movie. It's commendable that the filmmakers would choose to go with the controversial plot element considering it's such a big-budget movie. And while it threatens to make a character wholly unlikable, it's interesting nonetheless, but I'm not quite sure it works for the movie. Then the film doesn't really know which direction to go in so Jon Spaiht's script goes the “something is wrong with the ship so we need to fix it” route.

The story is quite simple. Pratt and Lawrence are two of thousands of passengers on a spaceship bound for a life on a new planet. Everyone is in hibernation and set to wake up in 90 years. Something has gone wrong with the ship and they're woken up early and can't figure out how to get back to sleep. The only other one around to talk to is a bartending android played by Michael Sheen. Pratt and Lawrence are some of Hollywood's most charismatic actors. They're not very well challenged by the material here and they don't really get to show much range but they’ve got good chemistry. And they're almost as good looking as the film's stunning production design. Even if the script doesn't quite work the movie at least looks good. It sounds good too: Thomas Newman adds another impressive score to his already amazing resume.

“Passengers” isn't a terrible film, but it has some serious flaws. If it's one you've been looking forward to all year I’d say check it out but going in with low expectations is highly recommended. It's far from the intense space opera depicted in the film's trailer but the leads work well together and the film looks and sounds good. Label this one a minor disappointment.  GRADE: C+