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Dustin Putman

Passengers  (2016)
2½ Stars
Directed by Morten Tyldum.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia.
2016 – 111 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexuality, nudity and peril).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, December 19, 2016.
There isn't a grief counselor assisting plane crash survivors in sight, but romantic sci-fi drama "Passengers" nevertheless shares the title of the underappreciated 2008 metaphysical mystery starring Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson. Lack of branding imagination aside—and it happens more often than it should in Hollywood (see 2010's ski-lift survival picture "Frozen" and 2013's animated Disney blockbuster of the same name)—director Morten Tyldum (2014's "The Imitation Game") and screenwriter Jon Spaihts (2012's "Prometheus") have made a film with plenty on its mind, even when its methods of saying it do not always live up to their full potential.

Three decades into a 120-year journey to the colony world of Homestead II, a malfunction aboard the Starship Avalon abruptly pulls Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) out of his hibernation sleep. With no way to return to his suspended animation state, he is faced with the terrifying prospect of living the rest of his days with android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) his only companion. A year into his new lonesome existence, a desperate Jim begins to mull an unforgivable option: tamper with the pod of fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) so he will no longer be alone.

"Passengers" positions itself as a love story, a straightforward futuristic adventure tale, and an ethical conundrum. It works as all three at different times, but, whether a result of the shooting script or the final cut, Tyldum and Spaihts do not dig deeply enough. Jim's decision to wake Aurora is a selfish act tantamount to murder, and while the film realizes this it lets Jim off the hook a little too easily. Alternately, Aurora is torn between an understandable feeling of bitter betrayal and the affection—and maybe love—she has grown to have for him. Whether their bond is a result of genuine chemistry or out of necessity (they are the only two people around, after all) is open to interpretation, but the nagging sense that Jim has committed a contemptible act gives the love story a queasy undercurrent.

Fortunately, Chris Pratt (2015's "Jurassic World") and Jennifer Lawrence (2016's "X-Men: Apocalypse") are fine, attractive actors both separately and apart. They bring complicated emotions to roles that strike as only half-formed, particularly when it comes to lead protagonist Jim; there is next to no mention of his life on Earth and why he has decided to leave everyone behind. Still, one cannot help but be swayed by Pratt and Lawrence. Watching them, the viewer wants to see them overcome their conflicts—and they have quite a few, including the urgency of a fast-failing ship. Lending support that's hardly needed but welcome all the same, Michael Sheen (2016's "Nocturnal Animals") is quite believable embodying an amiable programmed robot, while Laurence Fishburne (2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") brings commanding pathos to a key role best left discovered on one's own.

The third act of "Passengers" raises the stakes and intensity, if not the complexity, revisiting high-wire situations 2013's "Gravity" did better. The films works, however, even when it's traversing the familiar and foregoing pricklier moral discussions. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are immensely watchable as they work off each other amid dazzling sets and capable special effects, backed by composer Thomas Newman's (2016's "Finding Dory") edgy, unsettling, compassionate score. "Passengers" perhaps isn't all it could be—one gets the sense there is a bolder, more courageous version somewhere in the ethers—but it is enough to satisfy as a slick, starry, occasionally thoughtful big-budget entertainment.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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