Like La La Land, the deluxe yet minimalist space opera Passengers brings together a simple concept, an Oscar-nominated director, and two of American cinema’s most likable stars. Yet it turns out all the charisma in the world can’t save your film if it’s confused about what it’s supposed to be.
The movie is set on an autopiloted spaceship carrying 5,000 hibernating people from Earth to a colonized planet 120 years distant. When the ship collides with an asteroid, disaster strikes for one passenger, mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). His hibernation pod malfunctions and awakens him 90 years too early, with no way of going back into suspended animation. The ship is big and comfortable, but he’s going to get old and die in it before he ever sees the place he was supposed to go.
The trouble begins when, out of sheer loneliness, Jim hacks another pod and wakes up writer and fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). The fault is hardly Lawrence’s, who’s steely and dynamic as ever. Nor is it Pratt’s, who strikes the proper sparks off her and does some nice things with the part of a man so lonely he’s considering suicide. These actors make as personable a couple as you’d ever want to spend two hours — or a lifetime on a spaceship — with.
No, the problem is that screenwriter Jon Spaihts gives them such soft-boiled material to work with. The dialogue comes down to boring platitudes about how no one wants to be alone, and it drags on at length while we wonder when these people will start investigating why small things and then large things start malfunctioning on the ship. This 120-minute film could have easily lost half an hour.
Had it done so, it might have been a pretty good space thriller. Pratt shows off his comic skills in the early going as he reacts to a robot bartender (Michael Sheen) and other computers that don’t understand his questions about why he’s awake. Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas makes the inside of this cruise liner-like ship look cool, and director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) fully embraces the big special-effects moments here, like when the gravity temporarily fails while Aurora is swimming in the ship’s pool and gets picked up along with the water.
With all this talent on and off screen, we might have even overlooked the terminally silly final shot. Unfortunately, Passengers is yet another movie that tries to make a statement about the human condition when it would have been better off trying to be a piece of entertainment. These two stars try their best to lift this ship off the ground, but there’s too much dead weight.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Written by Jon Spaihts. Rated PG-13.