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Smart space crew acts like dopes in stylish monster epic ‘Life’

Jake Gyllenhaal in "Life." | Columbia Pictures

Come on guys.

You’re a fabulous, six-person space station team of genius-level doctors and scientists and astronauts, and you seem to have an awareness of pop culture based on a few early references you make.

You know things. You’re ultra-super smart.

So when the microscopic Martian life form you’ve plucked from its natural habitat springs to life, begins to grow exponentially and exhibit signs of rapidly growing intelligence AND displays an amazingly strong grip when one careless member of the crew gets his hand caught in the laboratory cookie jar, you know what you have to do, right?

You have to kill the thing while it’s still the size of a tadpole, before it grows into one of those slithering, slimy, teeth-baring, oh-so-clever, bloodthirsty, “Alien”-esque monsters, am I right or am I right?


Director Daniel Espinosa’s stylish and at times fantastically gory “Life” features an A-list, international and diverse cast, a few grotesque surprises and one very cool and labyrinthine spaceship — but eventually crashes and burns due to multiple failures, from a script that requires really smart people to act like dopes far too often to an overbearing score (enough with the “Inception” foghorn-ripoffs) to some badly mistimed “Gotcha!” moments to a monster that looks like a less intimidating version of a half-dozen space lizard thingies we’ve seen in better movies.

(Also, it’s well past time for a moratorium on Norman Greenbaum’s great but immensely overplayed “Spirit in the Sky,” which has been heard in “Contact,” “Apollo 13,” “Forrest Gump” and dozens of other films and TV shows. That’s a 15-yard penalty for creative laziness.)

Let’s meet the crew of the Mars Pilgrim 7:

• Jake Gyllenhaal is space medic Dr. David Jordan, who is about to set the record for longest consecutive stay in space. Apparently scarred from his experiences in spots such as Syria, David doesn’t care much for the “8 billion motherf—–s” back home, as he puts it. He prefers life in space.

• Rebecca Ferguson is Dr. Miranda North, who is in charge of enforcing a strict protocol of measures to be taken if things go sideways. Not everyone on board knows about this plan, which leads to a few intriguing twists.

• Ryan Reynolds is risk management expert/Mister Fixit Rory Adams. Rory’s the man. He uses a simple open-ended wrench to repair things. And he’s full of quips, because, well, Ryan Reynolds.

Ryan Reynolds in “Life.” | Columbia Pictures

• Hiroyuki Sanada is Sho, who has just become a father.

• Ariyon Bakare is Hugh Derry, who is in charge of experiments on the creature dubbed “Calvin.” (See, there was a contest back home to name the Martian life form, and the little girl who won named it after her school, which was Calvin … somebody. They never tell us if the school was named after Calvin Coolidge, or Calvin Ripken Jr., or perhaps Calvin Broadus, aka Snoop Dogg.)

• Olga Dihovichnaya as the Russian cosmonaut Katerina Golovkin, who remains calm and collected when others start to panic and make really bad choices.

As Calvin grows stronger and nastier and more devious and violent, the crew alternates between coming up with dubious plans to destroy him and swimming as fast as they can through the gravity-free environment with the flying creature in fast pursuit. Again and again, a door is slammed or a portal is closed just in time, leaving Calvin to splat against the window, Wile E. Coyote style, only to rise up and start slithering around in search of another entryway.

You really wish the crew would stop calling this teeth-baring jellyfish monster “Calvin,” as if he’s a pet run amok. And you really wish characters weren’t saddled with dialogue such as, “It’s so cold!” when we can see their breath as they shiver, and, “Calvin’s trying to find a way through the airlocks!” as Calvin tries to find his way through the airlocks.

Also, what’s the point of yelling a character’s name over and over again and desperately reaching out for the character, even as the character has become a human Calvin Burrito and has no chance, none, of making it. Shut the door and save yourselves, remaining crew members!

Director Espinosa and DP Seamus McGarvey do give us some impressive visuals, including an early, seemingly “unbroken” single take (you never know with CGI these days) in which we meet the crew and we get to check out the ship.

As for that impressive cast, the script assigns one or two character traits or background stories to each — and then goes back to yet another monster movie chase sequence, so there’s not much room for standout work. Bakare has some interesting moments as the scientist who grows too fond of Calvin, and Reynolds knocks out a few choice one-liners. The most disappointing work comes from the normally superb Gyllenhaal, whose David grins when it seems as if he shouldn’t be grinning and seems morose and detached much of the time, until the very end, when he shows a spark of inspiration — and perhaps a romantic interest in another crew member.

Geez, buddy. You were about to set the all-time record for time in space. You knew time was short the minute Calvin started chomping on your friends. What were you waiting for?


Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Daniel Espinosa and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Rated R (for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror). Running time: 104 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.