One of the better episodes of “The Twilight Zone” involved an astronaut who must travel forty years through space in suspended animation, meaning he won’t age. Before he leaves on his journey, he makes the mistake of falling in love with Sandra. This means that by the time he returns, Sandra will be an old woman, while he’ll still be a young man. In an act of love, he takes the trip but doesn’t utilize suspended animation, suffering forty of years of loneliness and near-madness in space. When he gets back—an old man—he finds Sandra to still be young. She put herself in suspended animation for him.
The leading incident of the film is strong, but it’s not alluded to in the marketing, so I won’t go into it. I will say that it’s honest and compelling, albeit a bit rushed and, therefore, hardly as honest and compelling as it could have been. Where the film plants itself is in the romance between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, which is fanned by the fact that they’re the only two people in a corkscrew-shaped spaceship hurtling through space. That’ll do it.
Pratt and Lawrence were passengers headed toward a shiny, new Earth-like planet called Homestead II, but for very different reasons. Pratt is a homespun handyman who’s leaving Earth because its people are more interested in replacing than fixing (his words, not mine). Lawrence is an upper middle class journalist, and daughter of a successful novelist, looking for an adventure to feed her creative soul. En route to Homestead II, their hibernation chambers malfunction—for one reason or another—awaking them 90 years too soon, which means they’ll die of old age before reaching their destination. At least they have each other, right?
Locking the audience up on a flashy spaceship with two actors whose public images fall somewhere in the “down-to-earth” category is a good idea. But good ideas are traditionally followed up with other ideas, which strive to be just as good. This film stops at its premise. What we end up with is some kind of Frankenstein date movie, stitched together by the lowest common denominators of male and female interests—or perceived interests, at least. There’s the horribly written, romantic dialogue for the ladies and the big, dumb special effects ball of nothingness that must be destroyed for the gentlemen.
The film flirts with some interesting concepts, but never makes a move. Why are we more understanding of random misfortune than premeditated hardship? Why is something out of our control more comforting? Having a man and a woman alone on an interstellar desert island could be a ripe opportunity to explore love as a survival mechanism. I don’t know. These are only suggestions. The point is, there has to be some glue of an idea to hold this thing together. Otherwise, it’s just Pratt and Lawrence carrying out the stages of a love affair.
So, you can’t sink your teeth into it. But fear not, dear reader, there are some hollow pleasures to be had. The ship’s interior has a realistically futuristic design, but it’s also undeniably cinematic. From the long, glossy hallways lined with ridges to the red and gold, retro bar, the production design is impressive. One of the more elegant settings is the pool, which houses the film’s most exciting sequence, in which the artificial gravity gives out while Lawrence is taking a dip.
“Passengers” has two likable leads and a fertile basis, but doesn’t know what to do with them. I can’t help but suspect that the script went through immense tinkering—watered down to the point where no one could possibly hate it. Or love it, for that matter.
3 out of 5 stars