PASSENGERS is a long, increasingly preposterous slog whose most tantalizing element is the question of why Jennifer Lawrence looks so very much like a young Renee Zellweger in some shots. Has there always been such a striking resemblance, or is it that this film is so tedious and predictable that one has the time to notice such things?
The time is the future, when humankind has started colonizing other planets, and, of course, corporations have found a way to turn this giant leap into a giant profit-making proposition. It’s one of the many interesting ideas posed, but not explored, in this film. Set aboard the starship Avalon, a giant golden gyroscope of a craft, the action, such as it is, begins when the force field protecting it during its 120-year flight to planet Homestead II fails. Neither the crew of 250 or so, nor the 5000 passengers notice this because they are all in suspended animation. That changes when James (Chris Pratt) is woken up too early by his sleep pod. A mechanic by trade, and the equivalent of steerage by classification, he quickly sorts out that the trip has another 90 years to go, and that there is no way to return to suspended animation to wait it out. He’s as alone as one person can be, with only the unctuous service robots, and the perky Turing Test of an android bartender (Michael Sheen) for company.
At first he wiles away his time breaking into the first-class cabins, dancing-off in the arcade, and shooting hoops until, predictably, he gets so lonely that suicide seems like a fine option. Fortunately, or not depending on your point of view, he discovers Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), a spunky writer with sense of both humor and adventure. She’s still sleeping, but James is a mechanic, after all. After wrestling with his conscience about dooming someone else to the prospect of dying before reaching Homestead II, he does the very human thing and soon the two are sharing the upscale breakfast and flavored coffees of her Gold Class status, and dating courtesy of the fine dining experiences that were designed for the four months before making planetfall when everyone was supposed to wake up.
The ethics involved provided another intriguing proposition that is tossed in favor of cheesy melodrama and some pretty cool CGI. The two are living in a fool’s paradise, where the things that are obviously going haywire with the robots and the other assorted technology send warning alarms to us in the audience, but don’t register as something to worry about to Jim and Aurora. They’re too busy being adorable. When things do finally go so very wrong that not even our lovebirds can fail to see it, a slew of plot holes open up into yawning craters of crap writing,
Lawrence is truly adorable, with the sort of bright and sparkly personality that would come across so strongly in a video that it would tempt James to do what he knows is the wrong thing. As for Pratt, he is affable and stalwart with the uncanny ability to keep his manly physique even after James goes on a junk food and alcohol bender of several month’s duration. He also provides a spectacular non-CGI moment when shares his firm and unclothed posterior with us. Twice actually. And kudos to a film that shows that off as well as having the beefcake stripping down to tank top and shorts to do mechanical work. In a radical and faintly political move, Lawrence doesn’t join Pratt in showing off her posterior, but does share her physique in a mesh tankini sort of thing that also provides the excuse for one of the film’s more spectacular images. That would be what happens when the gravity machine fails and Aurora is trapped in a giant water bubble floating in the air. Science note: water does, in fact, form a sphere in weightless conditions and the surface tension of same would be enough to keep her firmly ensconced therein. Further science note: the landscape of a star’s surface does indeed roil into weird and twisted shapes and arcs, and we have a nice long look at it as the Avalon slingshots around one.
PASSENGERS aims to be a consideration of the meaning of life, as in what constitutes one worth living. It drops just enough hints to get us thinking along those lines before making a series of boneheaded plot choices. It’s frustrating. As is the inexplicable cameo by Andy Garcia at the end. Not that we aren’t always happy to see this fine actor, but for 10 seconds looking stunned and with no lines? Why? Then again, one could reasonably ask that of PASSENGERS as a whole, as in, why bother.