Film Review by Lew Ritter
PASSENGERS is the mega-budget pairing of two A-List stars in what promised to be the must see Sci-Fi thriller of the Christmas Season. It is about the giant Starship Avalon, a giant spaceship /arc containing five thousand sleeping passengers. They are hibernating in pods on a one hundred twenty year journey to a green, undisturbed new planet.
Along the way, the spaceship suffers a meteorite strike, and one of the pods malfunctions. It belongs to JIM PRESTON (Chris Pratt) an engineer looking for a new life. He had spent most of his life savings starting a new life on the new world. Jim awakens from hibernation. To his dismay, he awakened ninety years before the ship would reach its final destination.
Jim becomes the modern Robinson Crusoe of outer space. He is alone on a giant technological marvel of a space ship with all the amenities except company. ARTHUR (Michael Sheen) is Jim’s Friday, a chatty, robot bartender. After a year of solitude, the joys of the technology have worn thin and his thoughts turned to suicide. He steps out of the ship’s airlock and for a moment, contemplates plunging into the dark void of space.
After more than a year of aching grief and loneliness and growing a grizzly beard, Jim glances into one of the pods and sees a gorgeous young blonde. He is rescued by the discovery of a sleeping capsule containing AURORA LANE (Jennifer Lawrence). Enamored with his “sleeping beauty”, he examines her life story and database. She is a gorgeous young writer from Manhattan, who sought to explore and write about the new world.
Driven by his loneliness, he suffers pangs of guilt about whether to release Aurora from her hibernation. At the end of Act One, he caused Aurora’s pod to malfunction. At last, he has company, but at a great price.
Act Two is devoted to the charming, budding romance between the lost lovers. However, drifting below the surface is the dreaded truth about Jim’s actions.
Arthur accidently reveals the truth and Aurora flies into a rage. She struggles to deal with her situation, as Jim vainly attempts to make amends.
The Third Act jumps into high gear as Jim and Aurora race to stop the ship’s computer systems from malfunctioning and destroying the ship. It features some extraordinary visuals as the pair risk a dangerous spacewalk to prevent the ship from exploding.
Aurora risks everything to rescue Jim who has floated away from the spaceship. This is high octane excitement, but too little too late to fight off the snooze factor.
In the last few years, it has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition to see Jennifer Lawrence star in a movie.
She is a talented actress whose name has become a guaranteed box office draw. In the past several years, her Xmas contribution to movie pleasure have been AMERICAN HUSTLE and JOY.
Chris Pratt became a star after appearing in the whimsical, sleeper hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and solidified it with his heroic turn as a scientist/adventurer in JURASSIC WORLD. His performance pumped up the action and fun of JURASSIC WORLD and turned it into one of the most popular movies in the Jurassic Park series.
Pratt and Lawrence are effortlessly charming and would make a fantastic cast for a great romantic comedy. Pratt brings a naïve working class charm to his role of Jim. Lawrence is elegant and brings a soulfulness to her role of Aurora.
Despite the charm of the two stars, however, there is no one else to play off except for Arthur, the bartender. Sheen plays Arthur with a perpetual smile and an amount of congeniality and earns some of the best lines of the movie.
The plot or lack of it. We are asked to believe that a giant spacecraft with 5,000 people aboard has no provision whatsoever for getting struck by an asteroid or dealing with any disaster.
The crew is unavailable to help in the event of an asteroid or other disaster. They are hibernating behind impregnable doors. Despite being a technological marvel, there is no way for our two main characters to return to blissful hibernation. The corporation that launched the ship is light years away on planet Earth, unable to being contacted in case of an emergency.
Lawrence Fishburne appears briefly as GUS, a crewmember released from his hibernation, when a passing meteorite strikes the ship. His role appears to be more of a plot device than a full scale character.
He informs Jim and Aurora that their ship is facing destruction with the malfunction of the computer systems. He gives them instructions on how to save the ship from pending disaster before conveniently dying of a heart attack.
This script supposedly ranked high on the BLACKLIST website. It was directed by the highly regarded director of THE IMITATION GAME. Surprisingly, this script did not receive a Pass from the many executives or their readers during its journey to the big screen Notes should have included lack of action, lack of secondary characters for the main characters to interact, and meaningful character development. This should have sent it back for a major rewrite.
The biggest mystery of all is how two A-List talents were convinced to star in this movie. The final voiceover sends the movie off on an optimistic note, but it is not enough to save it from tepid word of mouth reviews and sinking at the box office.
Lew Ritter is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.