passengers-jen-looks-sad

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen

Director: Morten Tyldum

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Pratt Butt and J-Law Sideboob

Release Date: December 21, 2016

WARNING: This review is SPOILER-heavy.

The first 30 minutes or so of Passengers is not exactly what you have seen advertised in the trailers. That is surely on purpose, because it is not the sort of thing that pops in whizbang mainstream cinema. The ads might lead you to believe that Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) wake up simultaneously 90 years too soon from their faulty hibernation pods, but in fact, Jim is all by his lonesome for about a year. Thus the film kicks off with Pratt knocking about in Homeless Lumberjack Chic.

Personally, I would be happy to watch 2 hours of this. There is plenty of hilarity in Jim’s interactions with a spaceship programmed to promise a bright future, which play like a horror satire of cultish weekend resorts. Jim however turns to despair, with only Android Bartender Michael Sheen keeping him from sliding into complete insanity. Robot companions make so many things bearable.

This particular robot companion, however, is not built to solve Jim’s dilemma. So when he discovers Aurora, he believes he has found the human connection to shake him back to life … this despite really only having her looks to establish an attraction. But I get it – sometimes a photo of a rando has struck my fancy, leading me to wonder, “What is the mystery behind this person?” The film also tries to suggest that Jim is won over by Aurora’s writing, but the words of hers we are privy to are rather banal – that nagging movie shortcoming in which a supposed expert’s works are not particularly impressive.

The more pressing issue is the ethical quandary regarding the appropriateness of Jim waking Aurora up. While his motives are presented as primarily selfish, they are not without justification. The ship is critically malfunctioning, and he does not have access to any of the areas that would allow him to fix it. Nor can he wake up any crew members, as he does not have access to their hibernation pods either. But from Aurora’s perspective, this is a huge violation of her agency. There is a chance to play this as a horror movie about the loss of control, and Lawrence is all ready to go to that vein of darkness, but she is granted precious little time to do so.

Passengers climaxes as Titanic in Space, which is to say: those who made the spaceship had the hubris to claim that there is no way it can possibly fail. The A.I. running the ship is categorically unable to process any malfunction. This is at least the third promising premise this film has at its disposal but also the least interestingly executed. The action moves along briskly, but it is overly methodical and flavorless, too concerned with just getting from Point A to Point B.

Despite its shortcomings, I generally enjoyed Passengers. Part of that is surely due to the magnetism of Pratt and Lawrence (and the slyness of Sheen). But even moreso, I am amused by the off-kilter dialogue, in which absurdly large numbers like “8 quadrillion dollars” are bandied about like they’re nothing. (Why are there such big numbers? Because, it’s THE FUTURE!) Then there are the indelible neologisms like “Ultimate Geographical Suicide.” The flaws of Passengers are unavoidable, but so are its irrepressible bursts of personality.

Passengers is Recommended If You LikeTitanic minus all the extras and supporting cast crossed with the post-apocalypse

The First 30 Minutes of Passengers Are Recommended If You Like: The pilot episode of The Last Man on Earth

Grade: 3 out of 5 Space Basketball Pickup Games

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