By Laurie Coker
It’s happening – the end of year, holiday, and pre-Oscar rush to entertain audiences of all ages. From sci-fi spectaculars to singing animals and serious drama to trashy comedy, it is all in theaters this week and next. Filmmakers vie to make it on critics’ list whether it is the best or the worst of the year. Passengers, a highly anticipated science fiction story about two people stranded aboard an interstellar cruise ship stuns with its exceptional visuals, but falters in story and pacing.
Starring the highest paid actress in the Hollywood, Jennifer Lawrence and handsome Chris Pratt, Passengers travels on a journey that never packs the power that its stars warrant. They are talented and beautiful to look at, and have notable chemistry, but director Morten Tyldum from a script written by Jon Spaihts, never keeps the pace with his leads. Spaihtis’ story is cute, but it’s a romance built on a monumental lie, dooming it, at least for a little while, until the film’s not-so-edge-of- the–seat finale.
The imagery and sets created by Tyldum and his team truly are stunning. The Avalon, a ship on its way to Homestead II (a new community and a new life), is remarkable and awe-instpring, but flawed – not just because giant asteroids caused unseen damage, but in silly logistical mistakes. Five thousand passengers and over two hundred crew members are locked in sleep aboard the Avalon and yet, only one infirmary and one “doc” is on board her. We know how Aurora (Lawrence) and Jim (Pratt) are awakened, but inexplicably an officer (Lawrence Fishburne) awakes (after more than two years) to save the day – sort of. The source of flickering lights, anti-gravity failures and suicidal Roomba-like bots, that took place over months, becomes clear quickly and the film’s multi-climatic final sequences play out at a breakneck and predictable pace.
Touted as action and adventure, drama, science fiction and fantasy, Passengers feels more like a romance and for the better part of an hour and a quarter plays out like one. Pratt carries the first thirty minutes, with his only companion, an android bartender (Michael Sheen). Once Aurora arrives, the pair courts and they resolve to live out their lives alone aboard the Avalon, a journey for which they awoke ninety years too soon. During the bunt of Passengers, little exciting happens, even when Aurora discovers the truth, Tyldum relies on his stars and thankfully they pay off, where the action, adventure, and drama are lacking.
Passengers will disappoint those looking for the noted genres, but might find an audience with fans of its stars and romance movies. Even the awe of the impressive production design wears off after the first half hour and it takes actors of this caliber to ensure that all is not lost in space. I am placing a D+ in my grade book. A beautiful film and cast do not ensure compelling entertainment.