[Screen It]


(2021) (Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette) (TV-MA)

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Sci-Fi: A three-person crew finds their two-year mission to Mars upended when they discover a stowaway on board with them.

A spaceship takes off on a two-year mission to Mars with a three-person crew. There's commander Marina Barnett (TONI COLLETTE), medical officer Zoe Levenson (ANNA KENDRICK), and biologist David Kim (DANIEL DAE KIM). Everything appears fine after the launch as the three settle in for their long trip. But then Marina discovers launch support engineer Michael Adams (SHAMIER ANDERSON) unconscious and injured in an overhead compartment.

Not only is Marina's arm injured while extracting him, but the ship's carbon dioxide scrubber module is damaged. Unable to turn back, both ground control and the flight crew try to figure out what to do, especially when it's learned that there might not be enough oxygen on board for all four of them.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

I don't know if it's still in use, but Southwest Airlines use to have a simple but effective marketing slogan with "Wanna Get Away?" It was designed to tap into potential travelers' wanderlust or general need to escape from their daily lives.

Of course, some people need to get away for reasons beyond vacation, such as a literal escape from the authorities or whatever their current life situation might be. And since those on the run from John Q. Law aren't rule followers and/or are wily enough not to create a traceable event by buying a ticket, they become stowaways.

I don't know how common that is nowadays, but it's probably about as likely as accidental stowaways. They're the people -- usually employees who work on or load transportation vehicles -- who get knocked out, fall asleep, or otherwise unintentionally end up as unpaid travelers on a bus, plane, or boat.

Beyond the surprise and inconvenience of such events, at least they usually don't end up endangering the lives of everyone else on board. But if such a stowaway ended up on a flight into space, it could be immediately or eventually catastrophic for the scheduled travelers, be that due to added weight or the unexpected extra use of water, food, and/or oxygen.

The now half-century old and change sci-fi TV series "Lost in Space" used that as the premise for the opening episode "The Reluctant Stowaway." In that, the Jupiter 2 and its crew ended up, well, as the title indicates thanks to Dr. Smith being trapped on the spaceship right before liftoff during his attempts to sabotage the mission to Alpha Centauri.

A somewhat similar idea cooked up by writer/director Joe Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison is what fuels "Stowaway," a solid and at times gripping moral quandary story in space offering. In it, the original plans for the two-year trip to Mars are for the three-person crew -- commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), medical officer Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) -- to be the only occupants of the MTS-42 mission.

Not long after launch but too far into the trip to abort or turn around, Marina discovers launch support engineer Michael (Shamier Anderson) injured and unconscious in an overhead compartment. Unlike Dr. Smith, his presence doesn't appear to have anything nefarious associated with it (or goofy as that category quickly segued on the TV show), and indeed appears accidental.

For a while, I wondered why Penna and Morrison's script didn't create suspicion and doubt in the minds of both the crew and viewers about the hows and whys of his presence. But then I realized that's not the sort of suspense they were interested in exploring.

Instead, it's the notion of what one does when a tough and literally life-changing decision needs to be made to ensure the most people possible can survive. You know, along the lines of Mr. Spock's "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one."

The performances are good across the board -- you can truly feel the characters' concern and fear -- as are the tech credits. What really makes the film work, though, is that you don't know how it's going to end, especially since a sudden deus ex machina solution would seem incongruous with everything that would have proceeded it.

While not quite of the high concept, blockbuster pedigree of the likes of "The Martian" and its "I'm going to have to science the sh*t out of this" creative storyline to save the day, "Stowaway" works quite well on its smaller, more intimate scale. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed April 19, 2021 / Posted April 23, 2021

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