Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Julee Cerda
PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
There are many problems afoot in Morten Tyldum’s Passengers, a sci-fi spectacle starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, but a surfeit of production values is not one of them.
As a ship of 5,000 passengers and several hundred crew members hibernate on their 120-year journey to a new homestead on a world far far away, a malfunction of one of the pods brings mechanic and engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) out of his sleep 90 years too early. From there, the problems escalate. When he’s joined in his wakefulness by a journalist (Lawrence), romance blooms, but the myriad problems are just getting worse and, before too long, everything is going wrong and their lives, as well as those of the other passengers, are at severe risk.
As Aurora Lane, Lawrence’s performance stands out against a limited backdrop of characters. Little of her screen time is spent alone, but she has only Pratt and Michael Sheen as the robot bartender Arthur to act against. She shows that her affable presence carries more weight than the banal dialogue she’s given to utter.
Pratt’s character is given far more to do and during the early parts of the film, his humor is evident and appreciated; however, as the film progresses, his selfishness, callousness, and utter inability to adapt from his mistakes give him an opportunity to excel, but he seems more interested in a pedestrian performance than one of depth, which is also a fault of the script’s weak characterizations.
Sheen doesn’t have much to do as a mechanical version of the barkeep from The Shining. He provides a sounding board for Jim’s self-absorption and goads him into some prudent and some imprudent actions. As an automaton, there isn’t much in the way of performance that Sheen can give here that would make the character necessary, which is one of the film’s myriad failings.
This is a narrative that, when viewed in hindsight, no longer feels merely questionable, it feels downright sexist. Aurora, for her part tries to mitigate a lot of the offensiveness of Jim’s actions, but Hollywood blockbusters’ needs to generate a happy ending allowed the creators to backtrack on whatever groundwork Lawrence’s character tries to lay. Screenwriter Jon Spaihts showed little promise with Prometheus, though Doctor Strange had given one hope.
Unfortunately, this screenplay undermines all of that with plotting that is utterly and irredeemably predictable. The audience will guess almost every plot device and turning point that comes up.
The film’s greatest assets are the bountiful production values. From the stellar score to the inventive production design, this is a film that excels at creating time and space, figuratively and literally. It’s a resplendent paradise that one can easily envision star travelers luxuriating in. When vacated by all but a handful of individuals, it becomes a cavernous expanse of opulence and excess that feels simultaneously desolate.
Some films are never able to live up to their potential and while that could be due to a bum performance or a lackluster directorial style, Passengers suffers most from an inconsequential script. The characters are thinly drawn and the patently offensive selfishness of the lead make for a dreadfully frustrating crawl.
July 3, 2019