One night in the near future, you’ll be on the sofa, surfing at-home movie viewing options, and you’ll come across “Passengers.”
Hey, you’ll say to yourself or to the person occupying the seat next to you. What about this “Passengers,” with J. Law and Chris Pratt? She’s got the Oscar and everything, and he was good pretending he was in a pit with real velociraptors in “Jurassic World.” Plus it’s a space movie!
So you might give it a click. If you do, be prepared to hit “Pause” or perhaps the “Mute” button on numerous occasions, as you will most likely find yourself saying: Wait a minute, what now? Are they SERIOUS?
Unfortunately, they are serious. “Passengers” is supposed to be some sort of combo platter of “2001: A Space Odyssey” meets “Titanic,” but it is difficult not to chuckle as a massive space station soars through space while the story careens all over the place, as if the screenplay had been struck by structure meteors creating some deadly plot holes.
This is a well-designed, initially intriguing, visually interesting sci-fi romance torpedoed by a premise — and a payoff — so creepy and misogynistic, it’s amazing nobody who read the script or green-lit the film (or chose to star in it) raised concerns about how it would play with an audience of, you know, people with working minds.
The entire movie takes place aboard the Avalon, an enormous, twirling, basically awesome-looking spaceship carrying some 5,000 passengers and 238 crew members on a 120-year excursion to Homestead II, an idyllic, unblemished colony planet. (Apparently things aren’t going so well back on Earth.)
Given the length of the journey, all onboard are encased in individual hibernation pods. They will “sleep” until the ship is just four months away from Homestead II, at which point they’ll be resuscitated and they’ll have some time to study up on colony living and enjoy the amenities on the Avalon, which basically mirror the entertainment options aboard a high-end cruise ship: a sprawling breakfast cafeteria; gourmet restaurants; basketball court; dance floor; an upscale bar, etc.
Chris Pratt plays Jim, a nice-guy engineer hoping to find love in the new world. Jennifer Lawrence is Aurora, a writer who was never happy in New York and is hoping to live the adventure of a lifetime and chronicle it for posterity.
A mere 30 or so years into the 120-year journey, Aurora and Jim find themselves awake — and royally screwed, seeing as how this means they will live out their full natural lives and die well before the ship reaches Homestead II.
I’m not going to delve into the circumstances of their respective awakenings, other than to say they sour just about everything that happens after that.
Wait. Not “just about everything.” EVERYTHING.
While everyone else on the ship remains in blissful hibernation, Jim and Aurora must figure out a way to go back to sleep. In the meantime, well, if the “Titanic” parallel isn’t obvious enough, Aurora says at one point, “We’re on a sinking ship and we can’t get off!”
Michael Sheen plays a droid bartender that stands by at the ready, polishing a glass and offering up drinks and platitudes while haunting music plays in the background. Because why not have a reference to “The Shining,” even though it makes absolutely no sense for this bartender droid to be up and running even BEFORE Jim and Aurora are awakened.
For that matter, why does an unseen automated voice advise passengers to run to a lookout deck when the Avalon is going to slingshot around a star? Is the ship somehow aware two of the passengers are awake? If so, why is there absolutely no plan in place for the unlikely but conceivable occurrence of PEOPLE WAKING UP WAY TOO EARLY???
There’s no shortage of arresting visual effects in “Passengers,” e.g., a sequence when Aurora is swimming in the coolest lap pool ever when there’s a sudden loss of gravity and she finds herself trapped in a floating bubble of water. But it’s just diverting eye candy, momentarily distracting us from the realities of the off-putting, ridiculous storyline.
Pratt and Lawrence are OK together. As much as I like Pratt’s easygoing onscreen presence in big-budget flicks where he spends a lot of time interacting with CGI creations, for me the jury is still out on whether he can handle deeper material. As for Lawrence, she’s fine in the early, romantic scenes, but the yelling and the careening about and the yelling and the grunting and the yelling when all hell is breaking loose on the ship? Meh.
Not that any pairing of any two actors on the planet could have saved “Passengers” from its galactic goofiness.
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts. Rated PG-13 (for sexuality, nudity and action/peril). Running time: 116 minutes. Opens Wednesday at local theaters.