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'Passengers': Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt Stranded In Space & Stupidity

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 21, 2016 3:09PM

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in "Passengers." (© 2016 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Drippy and dopey in equal measures, Passengers is getting the primo holiday season release strictly on the basis of its star power. Replace Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt with Jennifer Love Hewitt and John Stamos, take a good hacking to the $100 million-plus budget, and you have the recipe for a crown jewel Lifetime channel movie.

It takes a while to realize how terrible Passengers is. After what looks like a low-level video game intro, setting up the circumstances that leave Lawrence and Pratt stranded on board a massive spacecraft, things improve. For a while it seems the film might turn out to be a familiar but enjoyable time killer. For a while.

Pratt plays mechanic Jim, an economy class passenger on the made-for-luxury and fail-safe (uh oh) vessel carrying 5,000 people off to colonize a new planet. However, apparently lacking the Starship Enterprise's warp speed capabilities, it will take the ship 120 years to get there. So Jim and his fellow adventurers will be in suspended-animation hibernation for most of the ride.

But Jim's nap time ends when his pod malfunctions and he awakens 90 years too soon. The fully automated ship is at his disposal, but with the other pods working as planned, he is completely alone except for robot service workers, including a cheerful android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Unable to get his pod working again, Jim spends a year of intense loneliness before he hatches a plan.

Though he can't figure out how to restart the pod, it's apparently much easier to stop it. He sees the pretty face of Aurora (Lawrence) underneath her pod window and, reading her detailed passenger file, begins to feel he knows her. Though he knows it will end her planned future life, in his desperation, he decides to wake her up.

Now, why not spend a little more time browsing the passenger and crew files to find someone who, upon being woken, might have the scientific know-how to reboot the hibernation? Best not to ask such questions, I suppose.

Aurora, a successful writer with first class privileges, repeats Jim's frantic attempts to reactivate the pod before somewhat accepting her fate. (She also never has the "aha" moment to dig any deeper on those passenger files.) Believing her pod also simply malfunctioned, she warms to the only non-automated company she has and, eventually, falls in love with Jim.

The romance is portrayed with all the clichés of a Hallmark card commercial, but the secret of Jim's unconscionable, irredeemably selfish act does briefly give the movie some moral heft. Too much moral heft for the filmmakers, apparently, because before long that ethical baggage gets tossed aside like little more than a forgotten anniversary date. Who wants to think about a permanent violation of a person's free will anyway?

In place of that thorny issue, we get romantic sci-fi comfort food cooked very badly: the ship is breaking down, Jim and Aurora have to save it, and each other...and the thousands of other people on board...and oh, wouldn't it be nice if they could fall back in love again?

Laurence Fishburne conveniently pops up as a crew member whose pod also happens to malfunction, so he can provide technical know-how to the swoony space couple. His character's name is Gus, but you can call him Major Exposition.

Near the end of the film an actor closely resembling Andy Garcia appears. Oh, actually is Andy Garcia! His role is so limited, an extra could have played it. It's so fleeting, in fact, I would be stunned if there weren't a good amount of Garcia footage as part of several very different versions of Passengers packed away in the Sony/Columbia vaults. If ever a movie reeked of major retooling to try and save a doomed clunker, it's this one.

Pratt is a likeable lead in the right sort of role, but he seems poorly cast for the brooding qualities needed in his early scenes. As for Lawrence, I'm not sure early superstardom has done her any favors. She clearly has talent to spare, but her recent roles have me missing the natural, unaffected qualities she brought to her breakthrough role in Winter's Bone, or even the first Hunger Games movie. At 26, her career is a long way from being defined, but her acclaimed showboating roles in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle seem to have brought a self-aware quality to her work that I hope she can ditch soon.

To be fair to Pratt and Lawrence, I'm not sure any actor could save the treacle screenwriter Jon Spaihts stuck them with. Director Morten Tyldum did a serviceable job with multiple Oscar nominee The Imitation Game, but he had a much better script to lean on there. His efficient but nondescript work can't salvage this wreck.

In one of many examples of the film's lazy narrative shorthand, bartender Arthur appears totally human from the waist up, but from the waist down, he's all metallic mechanisms. Why? So Jim can look down and realize he's talking to an android. This near-perfect technology is left half-finished, just as Passengers is more than a little half-assed.

Passengers. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Written by Jon Spaihts. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen and Laurence Fishburne. 116 mins. Rated PG-13.

Opens Wednesday in theaters nationwide.