Passengers has a premise that could have made for an interesting, dark Sci-Fi thinker: A man aboard a spacecraft headed toward a newly colonized planet awakens from stasis ninety years before the ship reaches its terminus. Unable to go back to sleep for the remainder of the trip, the man lives a life of solitude until loneliness gets the best of him and he decides to revive one of his fellow passengers, a woman with whom he has fallen in love, damning her to share his fate. Finally with a companion, the man endeavors to woo her while combating his feelings of guilt over stealing her future and the fear that she might find out. This could be dark exploration male entitlement and human fallibility in the form of a Sci-Fi thriller. It is not. The film has the feeling of project that, in the early drafts of its script, was a dark Sci-Fi think piece but, once in the hands of the studio, became a shallow exercise in accessibility.
Chris Pratt plays the aforementioned man, a mechanic named Jim Preston, Jennifer Lawrence is the woman, journalist Aurora Lane. Both actors do fine work in parts that do not require much from them. Pratt is operating in the floundering wannabe “cool guy,” mode that is vastly more appealing than the smug douche he brought to Jurassic World and The Magnificent Seven. Lawrence is profoundly overqualified for her part. Her’s is the kind of role that would normally go to an actress looking for her first starring role in a movie after breaking out on television, not the Oscar winning star of two popular franchises. What Passengers asks of Lawrence is to be a body to be gazed at, contriving multiple scenarios in which expedience and practicality call for her to remove articles of clothing. In fairness, director Morten Tyldum’s camera does its share of ogling of Pratt’s disrobed body as well, offering equal-opportunity objectification.
The film does not lack charm entirely; the sequences before Jim wakes up Aurora in which he struggles to fill the endless days with activity are entertaining, as is Michael Sheen’s performance as Arthur, the android bartender who is Jim’s only companion during that time, and the film is at times gorgeous; a sequence in which the ship’s gravity goes haywire while Aurora is swimming is undeniably cool. Unfortunately, the positive qualities of Passengers do not come close to adding up to a good movie. It all adds up to a rote, not very comedic, romantic comedy in space in which a schlub (albeit a remarkably toned one) woos his dream girl only to have a secret he has been keeping from her spoil the relationship and be forced to win her back in an act of contrite selflessness.
Passengers is a film that does not dare risk turning off its audience which is, of course, a turnoff. Jim’s decision to wake up Aurora is, though somewhat understandable, fundamentally creepy (he is basically kidnapping her) but it is treated as the desperate act of a profoundly lonely, good guy, something that can be forgiven if he just seems sorry enough. A film that should be all about Jim’s selfish act, Aurora’s reaction to that act, her reconciliation with the loss of her future, and the reality of her having to live with the man who stole it, is derailed by superficial external dangers with which the pair must contend, distracting them, and the film, from what could have been really interesting. The result is an entirely forgettable film, a flimsy romance in space starring two beautiful people without much to do.
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writer: Jon Spaihts
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Editor: Maryann Brandon
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia
English/ PG-13/ 116 min.