The problems plaguing the futuristic “Passengers” can be crystallized in the film’s mutating marketing campaign.
For months the film’s trailer has sold a story about a century-long intergalactic space flight during which two passengers — played by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt — awaken prematurely from hibernation.
Faced with a lifetime with just each other (their thousands of fellow travelers will slumber on for decades), these two must fashion a new existence for themselves — Adam and Eve in their own mechanical Eden.
This week a new “Passengers” ad campaign hit our TV screens. It’s selling the film as a sci-fi romantic comedy.
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Am I the only one who smells desperation?
In truth, “Passengers” is more interesting than either approach suggests. But having established a crushing moral conundrum as its premise, the filmmakers don’t know what to do with it.
Jim (Pratt) is among 5,000 passengers and 250 crew members snoozing their way to a colonized planet on the other side of the galaxy. He awakens from his slumbers to be told by hologram guides that the ship has arrived at its destination.
Except that the arrival is actually 90 years in the future, and Jim has the vast ship to himself. His sole companion is a robot bartender (Michael Sheen) programmed only for small talk.
Like Robinson Crusoe, Jim is overwhelmed by loneliness. His beard and hair grow shaggy. Though he is a mechanical engineer, he cannot put himself back to sleep or interfere with the ship’s automatic functions.
Even an SOS sent back to Earth will require 55 years for a response.
And then, another passenger, the beautiful Aurora (Lawrence) awakens in a way I won’t spoil, but the issues it raises spoil the movie.
Before things get too heavy, the screenplay by Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus,” “Doctor Strange”) turns into a predictable science fiction thriller about tiny humans’ desperate efforts to save themselves — and those 5,250 souls slumbering unaware of the ship’s dangers.
In this quest Jim and Aurora are aided briefly by Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a crew chief awakened by the same malfunctions from before: blinking lights, twitchy computers, temporary loss of gravity.
Director Morten Tyldum, the Norse filmmaker who had a couple of solid efforts in “Headhunters” and “The Imitation Game,” has created a big, glossy production that spends most of its time avoiding what the movie is really about.
Of course, that requires that we buy into the idea that Aurora and Jim are falling deeply in love.
Sorry, folks. It isn’t happening.
For starters, these are bland, borderline boring characters that not even the charismatic Lawrence and Pratt can make convincing. Plus, there’s just not much sexual pull on display.
But more to the point, the film is afraid to address the troubling issues it raises. This is understandable — agonizing moral issues are a downer. But why bring them up if you’re just going to blow them off?
Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s reviews at ButlersCinemaScene.com.
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril.