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‘Passengers’ fails to launch

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Sci-fi film far less than the sum of its parts

Sometimes, when a thing appears to be too good to be true, that’s because it is.

For instance, take the new movie “Passengers.” On paper, this one looks like a no-brainer. You’ve got two incredibly talented and charismatic leads in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. You put them in what seems to be a sci-fi love story-type situation – well-suited to their respective skill sets, yes? You’ve got screenwriter Jon Spaihts, who has films like “Doctor Strange” and “Prometheus” on his resume, and director Morton Tyldum is an Oscar nomination for his work on “The Imitation Game.” So basically, all the pieces are here for a successful film.

But “Passengers” is far from successful. With this collection of talent, you’d think it would take a significant effort to screw it up. Unfortunately, they appear to have done just that. The film is flat and lifeless, squandering a decent concept, an excellent cast and an engaging aesthetic.

In the future, mankind has begun colonizing other planets. The starship Avalon has been dispatched, with 5,000 passengers and over 200 crew members, to the distant planet of Homestead II. The journey is set to take 120 years, so everyone on board is placed into induced hibernation to sleep through all but a few months of the trip.

But when an asteroid strike results in equipment malfunction, a mechanical engineer named Jim Preston (Chris Pratt, “The Magnificent Seven”) is accidentally awakened 90 years too soon. Since there’s no contingency plan for pod failure (since pods are allegedly failure-proof), he is left to wander the massive ship all alone. His only company is Arthur (Michael Sheen, TV’s “Masters of Sex”), an android bartender who works in one of the ship’s entertainment areas.

But loneliness can drive a person to some dark places.

(Note: the next paragraph contains spoilers. They take place early in the film and are essentially required to continue the conversation, but spoilers they are. If you’re hardcore, feel free to skip the following paragraph.)

After a year in isolation, Jim starts obsessing over one of his fellow passengers still in hibernation. He learns all he can learn about Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence, “X-Men: Apocalypse”) and slowly comes to the decision to rouse her from her slumber in an effort to stave off his own desperate loneliness. He agonizes over what is essentially a death sentence for her, but ultimately follows through.

After Aurora awakens, Jim does what he can to help her work through the unfortunate realities of her situation. The two of them grow closer as each relies on the other for social interaction, companionship and – eventually – romance. But things begin to deteriorate – both their relationship and the ship itself are malfunctioning, and sacrifices must be made if anyone is to have any hope of survival.

“Passengers” has some things going for it. It’s a good-looking movie, though the sterility of its aesthetic doesn’t always work as well as it could. And there’s no denying the charm of its central pairing. But the unsettling nature of its central conceit goes a long way toward undermining the film’s positives.

Despite the performative talent and personable nature inherent to both Pratt and Lawrence, the chemistry never quite catalyzes the way we might anticipate. Neither actor gives a bad performance – Lawrence in particular has some strong moments – but the lethargic nature of the narrative hamstrings both of them to a significant degree. And Pratt’s inherent likeability – one of his greatest assets – is largely negated via the nature of the story.

In many ways, it feels like a sad waste of a talented pairing. In truth, the shenanigans put forth by Pratt and Lawrence in the name of promotion were far more engaging than anything that happens in the film. When your press tour is more entertaining than your movie, something has clearly gone horribly awry.

From a distance, it would seem that “Passengers” would be a can’t-miss offering. But despite the array of talent assembled, the film is definitely less than the sum of its parts. Glacial pacing and a storyline that is both unsettling and unpleasant effectively torpedo any shot this movie had. An admirable attempt, one could argue, but one that ultimately proves a failure.

In short, “Passengers” might have looked good on paper, but movies are seen on the screen, not the page; far too much was lost in translation.

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