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

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - ENTERTAINMENT -

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.

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