Wednesday, December 21, 2016

PASSENGERS Left A Bad, Creepy Taste In My Mouth

Now playing at multiplexes from here to Homestead II:

PASSENGERS (Dir. Morten Tyldum, 2016)

Despite that the screenplay has been floating around online for a while, and because I didn't click on anything that went into more detail about the plot, all I knew going in was this sci-fi movie’s basic premise - i.e. two spaceship passengers played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence on a 120 year voyage to a new earth-like planet wake up out of hibernation 90 years early, fall in love, and work together to solve the mystery of why they were woken up.

What I didn’t know was that Pratt’s character, Jim Preston, actually wakes up from a pod malfunction a year before Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora Lane, and because Jim is taken with Aurora (he’s never met her; he’s just watched her passenger profile video over and over) he sabotages her sleep pod so that she’ll wake up and they can be together.

Sounds pretty creepy, huh? No wonder the film's trailers, and TV spots gloss over that crucial plot point.

The film, written by Jon Spaihts (DOCTOR STRANGE, PROMETHEUS, THE DARKEST HOUR), bends over backwards trying to justify Jim’s actions. 

It shows us that Jim, a mechanic back home, goes through months of desperately trying to break into the ship’s control room, becoming suicidal from loneliness as he wanders drunk and pantless around the corridors of the ship, which is named the Starship Avalon, where his only friend is a robot bartender named Arthur played by Michael Sheen (a role that in dress and demeanor largely recalls Lloyd, the hotel bartender in THE SHINING).

Jim also doesn’t just wake up Aurora on a whim; he goes back and forth about it for weeks, and talks it out with Arthur, but from him he only gets responses like “Jim, these are not robot questions.”

When he finally decides to wake up who he thinks is his dream girl, he tells Arthur not to tell her, and he makes sure he hides the tools he used to tamper with her pod.

Lawrence’s Aurora is in a daze at first, going through some of the same motions that Jim did involving desperately trying to come up with a solution to being “stranded in space with a stranger” as she puts it.

Aurora is a writer and her plan was to travel to this new world, dubbed Homestead II, live there for a year then return home after another 120 year journey back – that’s right, she bought a round trip ticket – so that she could write the first book about the earth’s distant twin.

Finally, after giving her space, Jim asks Aurora out and before long they are in love – eating at the fancy restaurant facilities, engaging in holographic dance-offs, and going outside the ship in spacesuits where they knock helmets in place of their first kiss.

Then Arthur, that damn robot bartender has to go and ruin it by telling Aurora that Jim deliberately woke her (Arthur misunderstands it when the couple agrees that they “have no secrets”) and Aurora is livid.

Equating it to him murdering her, Aurora angrily withdraws all contact with Jim and ignores his pleas – one of which is broadcast around the ship – for understanding.

This all changes when somebody else wakes up - Laurence Fishburne as Chief Gus Mancuso, one of the Avalon’s high ranking staff members, and they all find out that the vessel is in extreme danger due to more major malfunctions, so the last act is a high octane fiery climax in which our leads fight to save the ship.

PASSENGERS goes from funny (Pratt’s early one man show scenes before he commits his questionable act) to creepy (the couple’s icky, yet stylish, courting scenes) to a routine sci-fi action thriller scenario, to creepy again (the ultra stupid ending, which I won’t spoil).

Lawrence and Pratt are two attractive, likable movie stars whose talents deserve a better, more thoughtful sci-fi platform than this, or at least one that doesn’t leave such a bad, creepy taste in my mouth.

It feels like Morten Tyldum (THE IMITATION GAME) and Co. took the standard rom com narrative, in which the male protagonist does something unforgivable and is rejected in the first half of the film, but redeems himself in the eyes of the female protagonist with a heroic feat in the third act, and they tried to go all GRAVITY and INTERSTELLAR on it.

The aforementioned screenplay for this film has been around for nearly a decade, and at one point was almost made with Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon, and that alone should confirm the rom com-iness of this material.

The film, as shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ARGO, BABEL), is as good looking as its leads, and there are a number of amusing moments, but overall PASSENGERS is a A-list actors lost in space letdown.

If you want to see a great movie starring two talented good looking A-listers, there’s a certain musical opening on Christmas day. I’ll fill you in about it soon.

More later...

No comments: