Despite an original script by Jon Spaihts that wound up on the 2007 ‘Blacklist’ (an annual Hollywood rundown of much-liked but as-yet-unmade screenplays), okay direction by Norway’s Morten Tyldum (late of the English The Imitation Game) and two leads who are, like it or not, the biggest stars in the world right now, this obviously messed-about science-fiction-drama-cum-romance is both disappointing and surprisingly unsavoury.
A plot that references 2001 and the first Alien in its opening moments (and the classic Doctor Who story The Ark In Space throughout) has mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) mysteriously awoken from cryogenic slumber aboard the starship Avalon 30 years into its 120 year journey to Homestead II, a faraway planet that will eventually pick up some of the slack from an overpopulated Earth. Jim’s at first convinced that he’s about to join with the 5000 or so other ‘Passengers’, but it soon transpires that he’s alone and beyond rescue, and Pratt is funny and even rather touching in this one’s first act or so as he faces his fate, freaks out and finally considers doing himself in.
Things take a decidedly dubious turn when he spies fellow Passenger and would-be writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), and he ponders the contrived ramifications of waking her up to his only real confidante, an android half-barman named Arthur played amusingly by Michael Sheen, who might be informed by The Shining (another tale of fear and isolation) and has an Isaac Asimov-esque line in philosophical deficiencies. When Aurora is roused (so to speak), she and Jim fall in love – he is the last guy available, after all – and the tone grows even more wrongheaded as the computer system starts dangerously packing up, although infuriatingly (spoilers!) the conspiracy subplot that the trailer seems to promise never quite seems to properly materialise (sorry!).
A troubled production that looks to have been conspicuously tweaked, with reported reshoots and rewritings and a selection of stars (Keanu Reeves might have featured alongside Rachel McAdams, Emily Blunt or others) and directors (like World War Z’s Marc Forster) considered at various times as Spaihts’ screenplay kept on being ‘improved’, this has good work from Lawrence, but Pratt can’t do much with a character who we wind up loathing. And it’s already been a bit of a box-office bomb, suggesting that audiences only like Jennifer when she’s Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games films and Chris when he’s either fighting dinosaurs (Jurassic World) or being a goofy Galaxy Guardian, and that they simply don’t care when these two are in such dead space.