“Passengers” offers up such a spotless, pristine vision of our space traveling future that you might be tempted to book a flight.
A gigantic, roomy and shiny space liner takes a crew of 250 or so and 5,000 paying clients among the stars — without — in this case at least, a stop in Key West.
The space liner Avalon summons up memories of Douglas Adams’ “Starship Titanic,” right down to the inane in-flight announcements by the automated passenger-service PA system.
“Wake up, Sunshine! It’s time to relax and enjoy your stay!”
You’re on your way to Homestead II, the planet colony you’ll be joining.
“Don’t get homesick! Get Homestead!”
But if you’re hearing that and you’re all alone, something has gone wrong. Your hibernation pod has malfunctioned.
“Hibernation pods are fail-safe!”
How long until everybody else wakes up, you know, upon arrival at Homestead II?
“Ninety years…We apologize for the delay.”
“Passengers” pairs up the talented and stubble-faced Chris Pratt and the plucky, winsome Jennifer Lawrence in this dilemma. Jim and Aurora are all alone, awake in the void, doomed to die long before their estimated time of arrival. Well, alone save for Arthur the Automated Bartender. Arthur (Michael Sheen) is programmed to listen patiently to their woes, cleaning drink tumblers and generally being sympathetic to their every need. Save for the big one, or the philosophical ones.
“Jim, those are not robot questions.”
Jim’s a mechanic with an engineering bent, Aurora’s a writer — a journalist. He is stumped by the ship’s disinterest in their dilemma, the lack of response from the automation to solving their “unthinkable” customer service failure. Aurora is crafting their memoirs.
“We’re passengers. We go where fate takes us.”
The film has lots of promising problems for us to dive into with our heroes, mechanical and philosophical puzzles to sort out.
But from the opening moments, Jon Spaihts’ screenplay drifts off course, choosing to explain things that would be more dramatic as mysteries and secrets. And Lawrence and Pratt find themselves trapped in a routine cruise ship romance where the pool reaches out into the cosmos, and space suit excursions take the place of rock-climbing walls, luaus and tiki bars.
It’s a slow-moving “spoiler alert” of a thriller. We know what’s wrong, we know who has crossed which lines. All that’s left to ponder in this Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) exercise in tedium is what they’ll have at the bar, which seems straight out of “The Shining.”
Pratt has nice comic timing, even if he’s somewhat lacking in romantic leading man moves. Lawrence, with or without an Oscar, has never been able to conjure up romantic longing, no matter how beautiful and beguiling she is. It says something about the picture that Pratt is more interesting in his scenes alone, or with the android bartender.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney set off real sparks and generated genuine pathos in “Gravity,” which has scenarios and suggestions of sacrifice that “Passengers” borrows. That didn’t happen by accident, or by directorial design alone. That’s what chemistry and charisma look like on the screen.
Spaihts, who also scripted “Doctor Strange” and “Prometheus,” is more of a script engineer than a screenwriter. His writing is clockwork get-us-from-A-to-B gadgetry, and his scripts provide a template — in both “Doctor Strange” and “Prometheus” the source material did that work for him — to layer great effects (losing artificial gravity while you’re swimming is nightmarish) onto.
That makes one more too-easily-solved mystery. It should be no surprise that “Passengers” is sterile, airless, a space opera with light comic touches, technological wonder and subzero romantic heat.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Credits:Directed by Morten Tyldum, script by Jon Spaihts. A Sony/Columbia release.
Running time: 1:56