Passengers review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Passengers uses science fiction as a Hollywood dressing to tout Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s a story that gives them plenty of room to emote with madness, gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, make passionate love and run from explosions while they shout. And that’s all the story does as it whips up a preposterously contrived and morally devoid script that begins with clever ideas and ends as brainless dreck.
Jim (Pratt) is the only passenger out of 5000 that has awakened from cryogenic stasis while on a commercial transport to a new planet. Due to a major system malfunction, he has awoken ninety years too early and will not survive the voyage. He tries to awake the crew, but they are all in restricted areas that cannot be accessed by regular passengers. There’s no way to reactivate his pod and seeking help from Earth is impossible. He’s going to die alone on this ship. At least he has a plethora of entertainment, food and robots to keep him busy. The robot butler (Michael Sheen) provides a modicum of conversation.
Of course, solitude takes its toll after a year and suicide becomes a contemplated escape. He’s given up on not only trying to find some way to alert the crew, but also solving the issues of the multiple power outages and malfunctioning robots. That’s apparently not as important as it is for Jim to find another human to spend his remaining days with. If the story wants to take this detour, that’s fine, but serious moral questioning comes into play where he must make the tough decision of deciding to awake someone from cryosleep and doom them to a death on a starship. Well, it isn’t too tough considering how much he fancies Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), a writer from New York. Jim reads up on her bio and work, determining that she would be the most suitable companion. Or perhaps she just looks the most like a movie star.
Jim initially lies about Aurora’s pod malfunctioning so that the two can be a couple long enough for some romance before she discovers the truth and a fight begins. It’s unfortunate that the movie treats this very interesting angle of a sci-fi romance more as a forgettable plot point than a core of moral questioning. Aurora has been condemned to death by one man’s loneliness, but seems to forgive Jim quite easily with some makeup sex. After all, why would they stay mad at each other? Pratt and Lawrence are both big name actors. They can’t hate each other because general audiences would hate that.
Further downgrading any coherent thought in this movie is the dismal third act that degrades into sci-fi action shlock 101. It appears there’s a problem with the reactor and it must be repaired, but then automatic venting must be activated manually. But the manual control doesn’t work and it must be shut off from outside the ship. But the controls outside the ship won’t stay open unless blah, blah, blah. Cliffhanger after cliffhanger is staged to create some tension as if to makeup for the fact that the movie fails as smart science fiction and soapy romance. I forgot to mention that in order for the reactor to get to this point of disarray, the characters must ignore it until the last possible moment of danger, even when they have finally reached the reactor room and realize something is wrong. The movie must stop so that we can have a scene of Jennifer Lawrence swimming in a zero gravity environment.
Passengers plays a nasty trick on the audience by promising so much and delivering on nothing, playing it as safe with dumb Hollywood science fiction and mushy scenes of Pratt and Lawrence in a forced romance. The movie deserves some credit for featuring special effects as grand as its leads, but it’s all in the service of a script that is either bereft of ideas or watered down to drivel by executive meddling. The biggest stars, the most detailed visuals and the most titillating of sex scenes can’t do much to make up for a story that is lacking in any sense of morality, romance or urgency.