Passengers: Forced Seduction in Space

passengers

Passengers
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Opens December 21

Pity poor Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). All he wanted was a new life on another world. But when a meteor shower causes his hibernation pod to malfunction, he wakes up ninety years too early on his one-hundred-year deep space voyage. Now he’s alone on a high-end corporate spaceship that can cater to his every whim except companionship. (The comically cordial android bartender played, brilliantly as ever, by Michael Sheen can only provide so much emotional sustenance to our reluctant Star Lord.)

After a year of morose puttering around (he grows out his follicles and facial hair to lengths that would make Will Forte’s Last Man on Earth giggle), Jim stumbles across Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). She’s one of the five thousand other hibernating passengers on board and, so Jim comes to think, his likely soul-mate. But it’s immoral, isn’t it, to wake her up and condemn her to a life of star-trekking purgatory? Well, maybe not. Wasn’t it puppet Kim Jong-il, after all, who once sang “I’m So Ronery?”

Such a moral conundrum—the sleeping beauty as destined object of affection to a man who is, for all intents and purposes, her assaulter. For a while it feels like director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and screenwriter Jon Spaihts are attempting a glossy variation on The Marquise of O… in space! Spaihts, of course, is no Heinrich von Kleist while Tyldum, it should go without saying, is no Éric Rohmer. So the hemming and hawing over the ethics of Jim’s decision, and of whether or not Aurora will ever be in the know, take a back seat to the near-future visions, which admittedly aren’t without their charms.

Guy Hendrix Dyas’s production design (very upscale minimalist in an IKEA-meets-W-Hotels sort of way) manages to be both appealing and eerie, and the sets are nicely, expansively photographed by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who has a much better movie (Martin Scorsese’s superb religious drama Silence) coming out in near-succession with this bit of sci-fi romantic silliness. Because Pratt and Lawrence are the flavors of the moment that they are, there’s never any doubt that they’ll end up in each other’s arms, whether the challenge be one of principle or intergalactic planetary.

There are hints early on of the deeper film that Passengers aspires to be, and both performers throw themselves full-force into several of the conscience-challenging what-ifs raised by Spaihts’s screenplay. But it’s all theater, ultimately—a vacillating pile of contrivances meant to keep the lovers apart until the F/X-heavy finale (which culminates with a saccharine Imagine Dragons song about levitation and the shortest Andy Garcia appearance ever filmed) drives them, starry-eyed, back into each others’ arms. Not even the nebulas are safe from Tinseltown cornball.

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