Plot gets lost in space
DAMON SMITH finds Passengers to be a messy thriller that relies too much on its stars to keep audiences engaged
BEAUTIFUL people perform ugly acts in Morten Tyldum’s intriguing sci-fi thriller, written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange, Prometheus).
Set on a labyrinthine spaceship hurtling through distant galaxies, Passengers is a glossy meditation on solitude and self-sacrifice that loses its way in a messy and deeply unsatisfying final act that seems to have been cleaved from a different picture.
Interpersonal dramas and moral conundrums that germinate in the opening hour are trampled by slam-bang pyrotechnics reminiscent of the Oscar-winning thriller Gravity, albeit without that film’s immersive, jaw-dropping aesthetics.
There are undeniable, base pleasures watching Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in various states of undress at the centre of this muddle, including a couple of steamy bedroom scenes and an inventive swimming sequence in zero gravity.
Moments of imagination and verve are depressingly scarce though, and a proper resolution has apparently been sucked out of one of the airlocks.
Instead, screenwriter Spaihts resorts to a series of disaster movie tropes to up the ante for his stricken central duo.
All that’s missing is a wily extra-terrestrial predator hidden in one of the cargo bays to tear through that beautifully exposed, gym-toned flesh.
Mankind searches for new planets to inhabit and the Starship Avalon launches, loaded with 258 crew and 5,000 passengers in deep sleep, bound for the distant colony of Homestead II.
The journey from Earth will take 120 years, predominantly on autopilot, but a meteor shower causes a malfunction to the ship’s central computer.
Hibernation pods malfunction and mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and journalist Aurora Dunn (Jennifer Lawrence) wake prematurely.
They discover they cannot reset the pods’ sleep command and must spend the rest of their lives with the ship’s robot bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) while friends and loved ones slumber peacefully and defy the ravages of time for the next 90 years.
As they come to terms with their predicament, romance sparks between Jim and Aurora.
When crew chief Gus Mancuso (Laurence Fishburne) is also roused early by a software glitch, a shocking secret is exposed that under- mines the couple’s relationship.
“The drowning man will always drag somebody down with him,” notes Mancuso cryptically, before a series of failures in the computer mainframe threatens the safety of everyone on board Avalon.
Passengers is a missed opportunity that relies on the white-hot star wattage of Lawrence and Pratt to keep us engaged.
They make the most of slim pickings in Spaihts’ misfiring script, drawing on halcyon days in The Hunger Games and Guardians Of The Galaxy respectively for action set-pieces.
Supporting performances are largely redundant, including Michael Sheen as the automaton bartender, whose intentionally lifeless performance exemplifies the lack of heart beneath the picture’s expensive, shiny surface.