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"PASSENGERS"
(2016) (Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: A man and then woman must contend with being brought out of deep hibernation decades before scheduled on a 120-year trip to colonize another planet.
PLOT:
The interstellar spaceship Avalon is on a 120-year one-way journey to Homestead II, a planet that the 258 crewmembers and 5,000 passengers -- all of them in deep hibernation -- intend to colonize. But something goes wrong and one of the passengers, Jim Preston (CHRIS PRATT), is awakened too early. As in 90 years too early, with no one else around except for the android bartender Arthur (MICHAEL SHEEN) who's happy to serve Jim a drink, but otherwise knows nothing about how the ship operates.

After a year with no human contact and having exhausted his attempts to break into the sealed bridge in order to turn the ship around, Jim begins to contemplate bringing another passenger out of deep hibernation so that he doesn't live out the rest of his life alone. Despite the moral dilemma, and having become enamored with her via video clip files he's found, Jim brings passenger Aurora Lane (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) out of stasis. She's a writer looking for a grand adventure that will inspire her creative work, but she's shocked to learn she's come out decades too soon, and Jim is waiting for the right time to tell her what he's done. In the meantime, they eventually fall for one another and become a couple.

When she finally discovers what he did, that puts an end to that romance. From that point on, they must not only contend with that, but also increasing glitches and failures on the ship, some of which result in Chief Gus Mancuso (LAURENCE FISHBURNE) also coming out of hibernation too soon.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Most films featuring stories of people stranded in some deserted place -- think of Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" as an example -- show the physical hardship of such an ordeal. And that's because without people and thus some form of civilization present, creature comforts wouldn't be around either, save for whatever might have initially accompanied the poor soul. Of course, there's the emotional toll as well, but a stiff drink, gallon of ice cream or a movie to escape in would help with some of that, at least for a while. And there's also the thought that rescue is always possible, no matter how remote the island, canyon crevice or distant planet that other such locale might be.

The latter is what got Matt Damon's character through his isolation on Mars in "The Martian," what with being millions of miles from any other human and years away from any such rescue attempt. In this year's "Uh-oh, I'm stranded far from Earth" flick, Chris Pratt plays a man who wakes up too early on a planned 120-year mission to colonize another planet. But rather than being in a hostile living environment like some of his cinematic predecessors, he's in a climate controlled space with plenty to do, plenty to eat and clearly plenty of booze to drink.

The only problem is that there's still 90 years to go on the trip and while there are more than 5,000 other souls on the ship, all of them are tucked away squarely in deep sleep hibernation. But being a mechanical engineer and with lots of system schematics lying around, there's the temptation of waking up someone else early just for some companionship, notwithstanding the moral dilemma of doing such a thing. That's the high concept story idea that fuels "Passengers," a sci-fi flick that starts off decently enough but ends up facing glitches and malfunctions much like the ship on which the protagonist is stuck.

It doesn't help that the trailers are misleading in suggesting that there's something more involved in the early awakening than what's present. No, this isn't the second coming of "Alien" where the Nostromo crew is brought out of hibernation for what initially appears to be a rescue mission but ultimately boils down to a nefarious (and ultimately deadly) reason behind the wake-up call. And despite the similarities to the kicking off point of the TV show "Lost in Space," it's not an act of sabotage that alters the mission of planet colonists.

Instead, it's just a damage-induced malfunction that has Pratt's character spending a year is isolation, with only a limited android bartender (Michael Sheen) as his non-human contact (a step up, I guess, from the Wilson volleyball in "Cast Away"). Screenwriter Jon Spaihts, director Morten Tyldum, and Pratt infuse enough humor into all of this that the first act is entertaining enough to keep us interested in what's going to follow.

And namely that's the protagonist deciding to wake up Jennifer Lawrence's character to keep him company. Beyond the moral iffiness of such an act, there's also the rather icky element that this is stalking taken to a higher technical level. Rather than do a one-man selection process of who among the five-thousand-plus sleeping folks might best help him get through this ordeal (in what could have been a fun montage -- although the flick is already overflowing with enough of those), Jim literally stumbles upon the hibernation pod of Aurora and is instantly smitten with this literal sleeping beauty. He then watches video files of her talking about why she's become a colonist and thus sort of falls in love with her, albeit in an obviously one-sided, stalker sort of way.

Nevertheless, he brings her out and decides to wait until the right moment to inform her of his treachery (of essentially stranding her to a life with just him and one that will shortchange everything she hoped and dreamed for), something that, natch, never arrives. The two fall in love, roll around in the sheets and then, double-natch, the disclosure hammer eventually drops just when things were looking good. All of which could have lead to an interesting examination of spending a lifetime with someone you now hate (at least on her part). Or the increasingly easier dilemma of perhaps bringing other people out of their deep slumber to circumvent decades of one-on-one anger and awkwardness.

All involved play off the former for a bit, but all of that segues into more action-oriented and thriller moments regarding the ship's increasing problems that sadly mirror the film's. While one of those is sort of cool (Lawrence getting stuck in a huge "bubble" of water once the ship loses its ability to create artificial gravity and her swimming pool water suddenly goes airborne with her stuck inside that), the rest are fairly rote and as a "special guest star" arrives but quickly malfunctions himself (so to speak), so too does the film as it starts to come apart at the seams.

All of which results in "Passengers" being an okay ride for a while, but ultimately one you wouldn't want to have as your only movie to own if stranded on an uninhabited island or facing decades of travel onboard a deep space journey. At least there's no kid present incessantly asking, "Are we there yet?" Had there been, this might have turned into an entirely different sort of tale. As it stands, it rates no better than a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 19, 2016 / Posted December 21, 2016


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