There are worse people than Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt to be stranded with in outer space, and better ways to spend time with them than the third act of Passengers.
This is science fiction needing more work on the fiction part, an intriguing premise running its course halfway through. Passengers is too smart for starters to devolve into green screen spectacle relegating its attractive stars to unconvincing gapes.
Pratt plays Jim Preston, one of thousands traveling in suspended animation aboard Avalon, a space cruise ship heading to Homestead II, a corporatized planet colony. The trip takes 120 years but a meteor collision causes Jim's sleep pod to malfunction, waking him 90 years too soon. He'd likely die alone except for Arthur (Michael Sheen), a sympathetic android bartender.
Director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) establishes Jim's predicament with a light touch, a solitude fantasy in futuristic luxury. Jim can do whatever he wishes in the Avalon's vacation-style settings except eat gourmet food; he bought the economy package. After a year, staying drunk, playing basketball and Dance Dance Revolution alone takes its toll.
So far, so entertaining. Then screenwriter Jon Spaihts tosses an ethical grenade. Jim's attempt to fix his pod teaches him how to awaken someone else. He has his eye on Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a sleeping beauty he "stalks" for months. Jim would essentially be murdering her, so she could never know. Arthur won't tell.
Aurora is awakened, and another love story begins with a lie. Passengers regains its earlier lightness — date nights, romantic space walks, sex — but with an interesting shadow on Jim's character. He's the closest thing to a villain in this movie. There's only one direction this relationship is headed, and it isn't Homestead II.
Lawrence and Pratt's chemistry is undeniable, both playing well off Sheen's robotic wit. But instead of settling Jim and Aurora's situation — the same conclusion would work — Tyldum remembers he's making sci-fi so CGI attention must be paid, sending Passengers out of its orbit. A crew member (Laurence Fishburne) awakens, adding little to the story except a tell-tale cough.
Passengers turns ordinary then silly, with an inferno to be tamed and a survival tactic as dumb as Indiana Jones ducking into a refrigerator to dodge an atomic blast or Helen Hunt tied to a water heater living through a twister. Tyldum proves he has watched Gravity. Blink and you'll miss Andy Garcia.
It's disappointing because until that third act, Passengers is accomplished eye candy, not only Lawrence and Pratt but the Avalon's helix exterior and lavish interiors, one of the most striking spaceship designs in memory. The Avalon will be dry docked after this. It'd be a shame if two of our most attractive acting talents don't get another chance together.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.