Stars Among the Stars

Movie stars do not carry as much weight these days in terms of a movie’s box office success as they did in the past, but if you were casting a vehicle for a pair of stars, you could not do much better these days than Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.  Unfortunately, their star power is about all Passengers, an action romance spectacle set amongst the actual stars, has going for it.

Pratt and Lawrence play Jim and Aurora, respectively.  He is an engineer and she a writer.  About the only thing they have in common is that they are both hibernating passengers aboard a starship that is making a 120 year journey to a colonized planet.  Trouble arises when the pair find themselves awoken from their deep sleep and wandering the ship about 90 years too soon.  Because of this, they must face loneliness and the certitude that they will die long before they reach their destination.

Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora in PassengersPerhaps out of necessity, the two become romantically involved and begin to make the best they can out of their sinking ship situation.  Fortunately, the ship is designed to accommodate them, featuring various food and entertainment options controlled by robotic hosts.  When they realize that the ship’s systems are all failing, however, it becomes about more than just the two of them as the 4,998 other passengers on board and all of the crew’s lives are suddenly in their hands.

There is an interesting moral question that is raised early in Passengers, but that eventually gets lost in a movie that becomes all about dressing its beautiful actors in stylish clothing while they flirt and fall into one of those standard movie romances.  The film’s final act is action-packed, but the action is hollow without any real stakes behind it.  We have already been told that the two leads will die aboard the ship before they can reach their destination, so there is little suspense from their lives being in danger during the film’s climax.  As for the rest of the crew and passengers they are trying to save, we know not a single thing about any of them except that one lady is a midwife.

While those flaws cast a big shadow over the entire film, Passengers is not without a few delights.  The special effects are well done and the spaceship that the entire movie takes place on is a fascinating place to visit.  Although its passengers will sleep for the majority of their journey, entertainment was provided for the final four-month leg of their journey when they would all be awake, and Jim and Aurora give us a nice tour of all those options.  One does have to question why a ship with over five thousand people on board has only one medical bay, though.  Then again, this movie clearly takes place many years in the future so maybe most diseases and health problems have been cured by then.

Lawrence and Pratt are also easy to watch and keep our attention even when there is not much of interest going on in the movie.  Michael Sheen, the only other cast member who gets a decent share of screentime as the robotic bartender, is also a lot of fun.

Columbia Pictures clearly intended this to be the star-studded blockbuster extravaganza that would walk away with the Christmas week box office, but unfortunately it seems much more likely that it becomes the next The Tourist, the December 2010 box-office flop starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.   The Tourist, as it happens, was also released through Columbia Pictures.   Perhaps it is time for the studio to start looking at less crowded release windows for their movie star projects.

Passengers is rated PG-13 for “sexuality, nudity, and action/peril.”  The sexuality pushes the boundaries a little bit in terms of the PG-13 rating, but for the most part the content is on par with its rating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Passengers.