PASSENGERS * 1 / 2
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia. Screenplay by Jon Spaihts. Directed by Morten Tyldum.
The more I learn about how the industry operates these days, the more I come to the conclusion that at our current moment in Hollywood history, for a big-budget studio picture to turn out even halfway decent qualifies as some kind of goddamn miracle. The lesson of the Sony hack and all those leaked development emails –the ones I think I’m supposed to pretend I didn’t read voraciously– is that when such large numbers are at stake, there’s so much panicky meddling from so many micro-managers on so many executive levels that it’s almost impossible for expensive blockbusters to *not* end up all pear-shaped and incoherent.
Passengers is the last what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking debacle to be released in a year that’s been lousy with them. Majorly miscasting two hot young talents who I think we’re all starting to feel like we’ve seen quite enough of for a little while, thanks – it’s a $120 million science-fiction chamber piece hinging on an act of violation so monstrous it shatters the film into a thousand pieces. What happens in this movie is really, really horrifying. But then thanks to either market research, cowardly execs or perhaps just filmmakers who are sociopaths, the pretty movie stars quickly get over it and live happily ever after.
There’s no way to properly discuss Passengers without inciting the wrath of the Spoiler Police, so if you can’t deal with plot details please close your browser right now and trust me that the movie sucks. Thanks for reading and happy holidays.
Okay, for everyone still here: Chris Pratt stars as one of 5,000 intergalactic pioneers happily snoring away in hypersleep chambers on a 120-year-voyage to an off-world colony. Rotten luck for our hero, there’s a malfunction in his pod and he wakes up about ninety years too early. Unable to fix it, he’s destined to die alone on this giant, empty spacecraft before any of his fellow passengers so much as stir. Pratt wanders around in increasing despair for about a year or so, getting drunk with a robot bartender (the very amusing Michael Sheen) and growing a hilarious fake beard.
He eventually becomes fixated on a sleeping beauty played by Jennifer Lawrence and dude gets the bright idea of sabotaging her pod and waking her up so at least he won’t be alone anymore. (Also hey, she looks like Jennifer Lawrence and it’s not like she’ll have any other options out here.) Of course viewers with even the tiniest scrap of morality realize that this is, for all intents and purposes, murdering her –or at the very least condemning her to the same purgatorial existence in which he suffers– but within the arc of the movie it’s really not such a big deal and everyone moves on rather quickly, considering.
So, yeah. Passengers could have made for a brutal psychodrama about male entitlement. I spent most of the time wishing Roman Polanski had re-written and directed it. But instead we’ve got Morten Tyldum, whose Academy Award-nominated direction of The Imitation Game was so anonymous I remain half-convinced his name might be an acronym for a committee of some sort. He mostly hangs back here and lets genius cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (who also shot Scorsese’s Silence this year) go to town with 3D planes of action in the cavernous, luxuriously empty spaceship.
There’s a nifty, hair-raising effects sequence during which Lawrence is swimming when the ship’s gravity simulator craps out, but it has so little to do with anything it could have been removed without changing the story in the slightest. (In fact, I’m even having a difficult time deciding where to mention it in the body of this review.) Passengers is a great-looking movie that does not appear to have any discernible point of view on its material.
Ditto for the great-looking stars, neither of whom has ever been this uninteresting on film before. You’d think our protagonist would be suffering some guilt over selfishly robbing this woman of her future, but besides batting his puppy-dog eyes once in a while, Pratt’s decidedly not the kind of actor who conveys inner turmoil. (I liked him better back when he was a funny fat guy.) Lawrence is given frightfully little to do besides look amazing in a bathing suit and cheer on our hero while he does heroic, manly stuff with wrenches and levers to fix the foundering spaceship.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Instead of resolving the “Hey, you woke me up and sentenced me to die alone with you, pervert” conflict that dogs the movie for a matter of like fifteen minutes, Jon Spaihts’ screenplay brings the characters back together by having them repair a lot of catastrophic mechanical problems and allows her to be so awed by his amazing, manly prowess with tools that she falls swooning back into his arms.
In the Roman Polanski version of Passengers that was concurrently running in my mind, the only logical ending was for Pratt to die while fixing the ship and leave us with Lawrence a year or two later, sick with loneliness and contemplating the sin of waking up another sleeping passenger. Alas, this particular version of the movie ends with a bizarre cameo from Andy Garcia eighty-odd years in the future, mugging for the camera when he discovers that our lovebirds have planted trees in his spaceship. He’s speechless, as was I.