After 45 minutes, “Passengers” is well on its way to becoming a high concept psychological drama that happens to take place on a spaceship. In that short amount of time, the movie creates all sorts of arguments involving the human condition, such as loneliness and guilt, while leading you to believe this sci-fi tale is heading to a dark, dark place.
Unfortunately, director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Jon Spaihts chickened out. They’ve taken all the bite out of a delicious science fiction setup in an effort to cover an unnecessary budget of over $100 million. The only hope this movie has to avoid box office disaster is the considerable appeal and star power of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.
“Passengers” begins with Jim Preston (Pratt) waking up from hibernation on the Avalon, a ship making the 120 year journey from Earth to a new colony called Homestead II. The problem Jim faces is that he was accidentally awoken 90 years too early and discovers that of the 5,000 passengers, he’s the only one awake.
Faced with the prospect of dying alone on a ship in space, Jim goes through a series of expected emotions ranging from carefree recklessness (mostly involving mass whiskey consumption) to horrible depression (also involving whiskey consumption). His only “friend” is an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) who mostly aids in the aforementioned whiskey consumption.
After just over one year alone, Aurora Lane (Lawrence) wakes up. The hows and whys regarding it would spoil some of “Passengers” tastiest moments, but those are dispatched by Tyldum and Spaihts as they get these two castaways in love and naked together as quickly as possible. Sure, Jim and Aurora’s actions are affected by their situation and lack of options, but it’s tough to swallow that these two lovebirds swoon over each other in a matter of weeks.
Right when “Passengers” has its most promising moral dilemma explode in Jim and Aurora’s faces is when the movie falls to pieces. Instead of pushing the envelope, the movie devolves into typical outer space movie nonsense. “The ship is falling apart!” “Oh no, the fusion engine is going to blow up!” All that is missing are aliens of some sort.
It’s surprising that “Passengers” becomes such a bore considering Tyldum last directed the very well done “The Imitation Game” and he has two stars with charisma and charm to spare. It’s presumptuous, but there are specific scenes and plot developments that stink of studio interference amid fears that “Passengers” costs way too much to be this dark.
Jennifer Lawrence is sleepwalking a bit, but she still helps make “Passengers” watchable. At one point, she’s forced to shout cheesy dialogue while operating some levers and pushing some buttons that seems more fitting for a “Star Trek” episode. There’s also some questionable character decisions that have more to do with Spaihts script than Lawrence’s acting and it is extremely puzzling to watch her be forced into such bizarre situations.
A casting director should try to pair Lawrence and Chris Pratt together again. Their onscreen chemistry makes the movie move for the first hour and much of that is Pratt onscreen alone. Pratt does a great job as an unhinged person slowly losing his mind, but like Lawrence, he eventually is forced into boring sci-fi nonsense. He gets the unfortunate burden of not only saying silly things like Lawrence, but he also is in one of the most preposterous action sequences in recent movie history.
Lawrence and Pratt are definitely up for it, but Tyldum and Speihts turn “Passengers” into a wannabe “Titanic” in space. It even has a “don’t let go, Rose” moment that would be the biggest eye roller in the movie if not for what happens immediately after it. Once “Passengers” shifts gears and becomes about the dangers of space travel instead of a movie about people that happen to be in space, it creates a space-like vacuum of boredom in the theater.
Besides, what kind of a movie has Andy Garcia in it but doesn’t have him say a word?