Passengers (2016), Rated PG-13
Directed By: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: three and a half stars
Reviewed by David L. Felts

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I didn’t have high expectations going into Passengers, mainly because my wife told me that she’d heard it wasn’t all that great. I’m pleased to say my low expectations were exceeded, although the film does have some problems.

A quick rundown: Jim (Chris Pratt) is a voluntary passenger on a colony ship headed for Homestead 2, an Earth-like planet some 120 years from earth as the spaceship flies. An encounter with an asteroid field causes a malfunction and Jim’s hibernation pod–which isn’t supposed to awaken him (and the other 5,000 humans on the ship) until he is only 4 months away from landfall–wakes him up early. Ninety years early to be precise, and his only company is a bartender android (admirable played by Michael Sheen) who’s conversation skills, although welcome, are limited.

And thus Jim is faced with living and dying alone on the giant ship.

The first and perhaps biggest problem is that the trailer gives away a major plot point and essentially ruins the first 35 minutes of the film, because we know Jim doesn’t end up alone. Likewise, what should have been a tension-filled lead up is neutered by the audience already know what choice Jim is going to make. So all his navel gazing and denial and tortured rationalization ends up being worthless fluff.

Too bad.

But once his decision is made, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) makes her appearance and the story picks up. We know what’s going to happen here as well, but it’s still fun to see the back and forth between Jim and Aurora as they dance around the fact that they are the only two “living” humans on the ship. We know they are going to get together, but the courting has charm and humor to it.

Unfortunately, once they do get together, we also know what’s going to happen once Aurora finds out about Jim’s decision, the one he anguished over, and the one I’m avoiding telling you just in case you haven’t seen the trailer. Stereotypical relationship shenanigans ensue and the only conscious man and the only conscious woman on the ship find themselves not speaking.

Meanwhile, the initial malfunction that caused Jim’s hibernation pod to awaken him has continued to spread and has begun intermittently affecting other functions of the ship. Jim and Aurora are unaware of this, seeing only the occasional stuttering elevator door or lights blinking on and off. But the malfunctions are getting worse and exceeding the ship’s self-repair capability.

Due to this continuing cascade of errors, another hibernation pod malfunctions and awakens Gus (Lawrence Fishburne), one of the ship’s stewards. He has access to areas of the ship Jim and Aurora haven’t been able to get into, including the bridge. Off they go, and upon resetting the ship’s diagnostic capability, the three of them discover just how many unresolved malfunctions are occurring.

And the malfunctions are accelerating. In fact, if they can’t find the original malfunction, the one that overwhelmed the self-repair capability of the ship, the whole thing is going to explode. Too bad the malfunction that activated Gus’s pod also interfered with the revival process. Gus is screwed all sorts of ways and is soon unable to help.

This leaves Jim and Aurora a very limited amount of time to track down the original broken thingie, fix it, and save the ship–and themselves.

The movie goes into action mode here, and that’s not a bad thing because the action is good. Jim and Aurora are forced to work together, and sacrifices have to be made.

All-in-all I enjoyed Passengers. It’s not a romantic comedy, nor an action flick, and, arguable, not really a science fiction story, although it has elements of all of these genres. It’s slick and fun, and Pratt and Lawrence render eminently watchable performances.

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