Review: Pratt, Lawrence’s ‘Passengers’ is lost in space

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are spaceship passengers who wake up early in this dull, under-realized sci-fi pic

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Passengers” is a one-way ticket to nowhere, a big-budget star vehicle that leaves Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence stranded in space.

Pratt plays Jim Preston, one of 5,000 passengers and 258 crew members on board the starship Avalon, a spaceship resembling a DNA strand that’s bound for a new planet dubbed Homestead II. The journey there takes 120 years, and Preston — and only Preston — is accidentally awakened 90 years early when the ship slams into a meteor.

Accidents happen, sure. But a flub of this magnitude — and with no mechanisms in place to account for the error — would surely earn the Avalon some lousy Yelp reviews. (“The accommodations are lovely, but I died when I woke up early. Two stars!”)

So Preston is left to roam around the spacecraft — which is like a gaudy futuristic cruise ship hurtling through space — all by his lonesome, like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” His Wilson is Arthur, an android bartender who resembles the barkeep in “The Shining” and is played with an icy detachment (but not enough creepiness) by Michael Sheen.

His robot pal can only offer so much companionship. So after shooting all the hoops he can, floating through the cosmos attached to a tether and drinking his weight in coffee (his low-level ship pass won’t allow him frothy drink upgrades; in space no one can hear your cries for a Frappuccino), he becomes fixated on a passenger named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).

He watches Aurora cryo-sleep, creeps her on-board video profile and dreams of waking her up. Surely he can’t do that, he’d essentially be killing her, but it sure is lonely up there in space. Loneliness or murder, what’s a guy to do?

“Passengers” poses that ethical question, though Pratt — with his puppy dog eyes and overall good-guy demeanor — doesn’t seem the type to consciously, selfishly take someone’s life. (Yes, he wakes her up — it wouldn’t be much of a movie and Jennifer Lawrence wouldn’t be in the commercials swimming in a white bathing suit if she slept through the whole thing.)

It could be an intriguing “Black Mirror” episode had screenwriter Jon Spaihts (“Doctor Strange”) baked in another level of intrigue or made the story a corporate metaphor or had he twisted it in some way, any way. But “Passengers” plays it dead-straight and falls apart, both on a human level and a sci-fi level, as it races toward its generic action centerpiece climax. Along the way, Spaihts gives his stars some lines that crash harder than that meteor into the front of the ship. “I’m a journalist, I know people,” Aurora tells Jim when she sits him down for an impromptu interview. Woof.

Director Morten Tyldum, Oscar-nominated for “The Imitation Game,” can’t muster up any sense of wonder, even with the galaxy as his backdrop. When Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were floating through space in “Gravity,” it felt like you were with them looking down on the majesty of Earth. In “Passengers,” outer space isn’t any more special than the view outside your office window.

Lawrence and Pratt are both big movie stars and they look good, fulfilling the minimum requirements of holiday movie fare. But “Passengers” is a missed shot at something more worthy of their talents. At one point, Jim and Aurora are investigating a malfunction on the ship, and Aurora asks Jim what they’re looking for. “Something broken, something big,” he replies. In “Passengers,” that describes pretty much everything.

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Rated PG-13: for sexuality, nudity and action/peril

Running time: 116 minutes




Holiday movies are arriving in three batches this year: “Passengers,” “Sing” and “Assassin’s Creed” open today, “Why Him?” opens Friday, and “Fences” and “Lion” open Sunday. Come back to The Detroit News’ On Screen section on Friday for Adam Graham’s reviews of “Why Him?” “Fences” and “Lion.”