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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Passengers

Passengers laid a big egg this past holiday season, and after watching it I could see why. Mostly a two-character drama, it's not a bad film, and has some genuine tension toward the end. The major problem is that the whole plot is set up by a dick move.

The premise is that interstellar travel is possible, with crew and passengers going into hibernation, so they can survive a 120-year trip to another planet (problem: even 120 years, going half of light speed as stated, wouldn't get them even near the next star system). Anyhoo, something goes wrong and the hibernation pod of Chris Pratt, a mechanic, is opened. He's awake, but alone, and will be for ninety years.

He tries to fix things, broods, grows a shaggy beard, and talks to the android bartender (Michael Sheen, in scenes that reminded me of Jack Nicholson and the bartender in The Shining). Then he finds a desirable woman in a pod and tortures himself contemplating whether he should wake her up or not. He does. Dick move.

I suppose screenwriter John Spaihts was trying to tackle an ethical dilemma, but it doesn't work. If the film had simply removed that aspect of the plot, and simply had the woman (Jennifer Lawrence) wake up from a malfunction, it would have been much better. Why turn your hero into a heel who has to earn back Lawrence's (and the audience's) respect? Or, better yet, I was hoping for an ending where Pratt gets killed, and Lawrence, left alone, wakes up some hunk, just to show that anyone would do the same thing.

But that would be a different movie. As it is, Passengers, directed by Morten Tyldum, is a moderately okay time-waster that recalls other, better movies, especially Silent Running or The Martian (it seems that the first thing a man does when he is marooned is not shave). I also liked the gag that corporations have bought planets for relocations, and named them like housing projects--Homestead II is where our characters are going. Why not Del Boca Vista?

There isn't a lot of chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt, and at times it feels like they are acting in different movies. This was her first movie with a love scene, and you can sense she's not that into it. Pratt had to dial down the goofy charm that made him a star in Guardians of the Galaxy--he's better at comedy than straight drama (I will always cherish his idiocy on Parks and Recreation).

Passengers was a noble effort, but a swing and a miss. I'm sure Pratt, Lawrence, and Tylden will be back in better projects shortly.

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