Movie News & Reviews

‘Passengers’ strong visuals can’t overcome lackluster story

Imagine buying a book with the finest leather binding and decorated gold trim. It is stunning in appearance, but inside you find the story has less depth than a third-grader’s “What I did on my summer vacation” essay.

That’s “Passengers.”

From a technical standpoint, the massive space adventure starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt is stunning. This is a film where a four-story set 1,000 meters long and covered in eight miles of LED lights was built. But, while Lawrence and Pratt are always enjoyable to watch, the fact they have so little to do on this impressive set makes this a close encounter of the often boring kind.

“Passengers” takes place in a nonapocalyptic future where Earth is so prosperous that many are feeling squeezed out. Those who can afford it or who have a necessary skill can take a 120-year nap while hurdling across the universe to start a new life on a distant planet.

Thirty years into the trek, James Preston (Pratt) wakes up. He soon realizes there are 90 years left in the trip and no way for him to return to hibernation. After a year with only an android bartender (Michael Sheen) as his companion, Preston is on the verge of insanity.

His solution is to wake up Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a passenger he has fallen in love with while staring at her sleeping. Isn’t that creepy?

After Lane’s initial shock that her life plans have been ruined, she and Preston form a relationship. This space age nirvana goes bad when Lane finds out the truth.

The last third of the movie deals with a series of disasters that threaten all life on the spaceship. That’s a little interesting, but nothing that hasn’t been done in 100 other space movies.

“Passengers” looks to manufacture interest through Lawrence and Pratt. They do make a lovely couple. But after the 10th time watching them eat or the multiple scenes of them playing an electronic dance game, the thrill is gone.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts, who showed great skill in creating a story that embraces both strong visual elements with interesting plots in “Doctor Strange,” looks lost in space. He doesn’t have enough for his players to say or do, so “Passengers” ends up a story as thin as the air on Mars.

The conflict offers a little bump in the story, but it’s not enough to shake up a voyage that will make viewers long for one of the hibernation pods. Even the very dependable actors can’t move along a story that breaks down to boy meets sleeping girl, boy awakens girl, girl gets mad, alarms go off everywhere.

What will at least hold your attention is the stunning set designs. Not since “2001: A Space Odyssey” has a movie been so driven to be accurate when it comes to what a long space flight would command. From the effects of zero gravity on a swimming pool to the way food is processed and served, the details are visually captivating.

But you know there are big problems when even Pratt and Lawrence can’t do enough to save the day. They are set afloat in a story that lacks even the smallest bit of gravity.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1


Movie review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Sheen

Director: Morten Tyldum

116 minutes

Rating: PG-13 (sexuality, nudity, peril)

Opens: Wednesday, Dec. 21

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