MOVIE REVIEW: Passengers

(Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures via


Mixing romance with science fiction always seems to be a dodgy proposition of preposterousness.  The emotionality of love is not something readily explained by science, unless some smarty pants cites neurotransmitters, adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.  The marketing and publicity push of “Passengers,” starring the hot ticket names of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, want you believe that you’re stepping into “Titanic in Space.”  Hey now, come out of hyperdrive or drop out of warp speed (your choice, fellow geeks) and pump your space brakes!  The only apt comparison between “Passengers” and “Titanic” is the metaphorical sinking.

Morten Tyldum of “The Imitation Game” directs a former Black List screenplay from “Prometheus” and “Doctor Strange” co-writer Jon Spaihts.  “Passengers” takes place in an advanced future where human colonization of other planets has been made possible by the Homestead Corporation.  Making use of massive cruise liner starships, android management, and stasis pods, those making the pilgrimage can hibernate through the decades and centuries it takes to travel across the galaxy.

The Avalon is one such vessel, speeding through the cosmos with over 5,000 sleeping travelers 30 years into a 120-year journey to the planet of Homestead II.  It encounters an asteroid field and sustains damage that causes several minor and major malfunctions.  One of those is a critical failure of the sleep pod containing mechanic Jim Preston (Pratt).  He awakens to find himself alone, save for a chipper android bartender (Michael Sheen), and learns of his 90-year death sentence of stranded solitude.  

Jim attempts to busy himself troubleshooting his situation only to soon resign to his amenity-filled, yet empty fate.  A year after his erroneous revival, questionable and calamitous circumstances awaken another passenger, the beautiful writer Aurora Lane (Lawrence) and her insufferable need to keep a diary for all to hear.  Guided by Jim, she too comes to terms with her tragic circumstances.  The two take stock in companionship and soon fall in love.  Crises of morality and mounting catastrophic failures aboard the Avalon soon threaten Jim, Aurora, and everyone else on board requiring necessary intervention.  Gee whiz, I wonder who will fix it.

The Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt we see working the junkets and interview couches have undeniable, infectious, and hilarious chemistry.  On paper, their megawatt pairing should burn the house down.  Other than a few sexy tumbles in the sheets, little to none of that comes through on screen in this predictable, ominous, and weak space drama.  Lawrence’s melodramatic chops are well-established, but Pratt looks completely lost emoting when he cannot be a wiseacre.

On the technical side, the deficiencies continue with few standout qualities.  Chief among the violators is an awful script of clunker lines and nonsensical twists from Spaihts.  There is a reason no one picked this script up for years.  Second is a horrendously mismatched score from “Wall-E” composer Thomas Newman, skewing way too far into the syrupy romance and not enough into the sophistication of the futuristic setting.  For a better musical mix of adoration and action in sci-fi, circle back to M83’s electronic score for 2013’s “Oblivion.”  Cinematographer (and recent Martin Scorsese collaborator) Rodrigo Prieto’s shot variety is unmemorable.  A film like this should be able to drop your jaw once or twice in wonderment.  The one trait of dazzle in “Passengers” that does widen your eyes is the award-worthy, opulent (and clearly expensive) sets conceived by “Inception” production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, a personal playground of galactic decadence.  

Summarily, “Passengers” is the most selectively preposterous movie of recent memory.  By selective, I mean neither the science fiction or the romance work on any level together because the film can’t have or be both with this script.  Whenever the science fiction element of its budding premise of being marooned in space with 90 years worth of time to explore looks to gain intricacy or rigor, the hokeyness and impatience of the romantic angle brings it crashing down.  By contrast, whenever the heat sizzles and the sparks fly between the beautiful people, the vacuous science fiction devolves to a cliched track of “everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  Both halves carry the requisite matching progression of terrible character choices that inexplicably lead to over-convenient and improbable successes.  

LESSON #1: DON’T BUILD A RELATIONSHIP ON A LIE-- The central twist, one that won’t last long before being spoiled after its release, bringing Jim and Aurora together is rooted in self-serving deception.  It is a reprehensible and unforgivable choice that sinks you out of the film.

LESSON #2: HUMANS NEED INTERPERSONAL CONNECTIONS-- Humans have not evolved to be solitary animals.  We need companionship and human contact to not only multiply, but survive.  A man alone can only handle isolation so long without interaction.  A bloody volleyball or robotic barkeep is not enough.  In “Passengers,” that time is merely a year.  Chuck Noland on “Castaway” will call you a pussy, Jim Preston!  He was cracking coconuts, subjected to the elements, and had sparse resources for four years.  You get to try on spacesuits for space walks, eat at restaurants and cafeterias, shoot hoops, and be drunk all day, month, and year on, essentially, “The Love Boat.”