Chris Pratt stars as Jim Preston, a space engineer travelling on a 120-year voyage to the distant planet of Homestead Colony on the Starship Avalon, when there is a malfunction and his hibernation pod opens prematurely 90 years from his destination. He is being transported to a new life there along with more than 5000 other passengers and crew.
When he awakes, he finds that he is stranded alone on the spaceship, with only a smug and smirky robot barman called Arthur (Michael Sheen), appropriately legless, lots of idiot computers and machines, and those hibernating folks as company. He falls for one of the hibernators, and, a year or so on, is so lonely, frustrated and in love that he can’t help waking up the lovely woman of his choice, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).
Naturally, if she finds out he did this, there’s gonna be big trouble in space. But Jim lets her believe her pod has malfunctioned too, though only after confiding in Arthur. Don’t tell Aurora, Jim tells Arthur! Yeah, right!
The screenplay by Jon Spaihts, known for writing Prometheus (2012) and Doctor Strange (2016), tells only a short story and lacks the epic status that Passengers seems to aspire to. The above set-up takes about half an hour of a near two-hour movie, and there is not much more plot to fill the next three quarters, with the story following a truly obvious, surprise-free route.
Aurora’s change of heart three quarters into the movie is quite hard to swallow, so it is just as well that Pratt is so likeable and credible and that Lawrence takes no prisoners as an actress. If Pratt is clearly He Who Must Be Liked, Lawrence is simply She Who Must Be Obeyed. You will accept what she says and does, or else! And of course she does it really well.
She is one of the cleanest, crispest, most capable actresses on the planet, or even, should she get into a pod a fly into space, the universe. This isn’t her best film, though, or best part, not by a ways. But having her in it elevates it. Ditto Pratt. Without them, this truly wouldn’t be much.
They sort of seem from different planets, but they share an odd and interesting chemistry. Their sex scenes aren’t perhaps as steamy as they think, but they are warm enough. They don’t get a chance for any laughs, which is a shame as they are up for it, and the film would be all the better for them.
With the actors not quite connecting and clicking, the movie, too, doesn’t reach the parts it needs to in order to be a main contender. You start recalling 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, The Shining, The Martian and Gravity, and those comparisons hurt, harm and bring down Passengers. It stubbornly refuses to be a great or memorable movie, though it tries so darned hard to achieve status.
It seems an essential basic problem that there are only four characters in the movie (a welcome Laurence Fishburne pops in briefly and authoritatively as crewman Gus Mancuso), throwing us back onto the on-off romance in space idea instead of the space adventure that would be more thrilling and more fun.
Passengers ends up as a nicely done, smooth space movie ride, enjoyable and entertaining enough, but derivative feeling and unexciting. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, known for The Imitation Game (2014), turns in a classy looking and sounding movie, but it runs a wee bit slow, undernourished and empty so there is time to check your watch and have the occasional yawn.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Movie Review
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