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'Passengers' leaves you wishing for a better trip

“Passengers” – Don’t you hate waking up too early and not falling back asleep? Well, I am one of those “annoying” people that can fall asleep within a few minutes and not (begin to) stir until the first of three iPhone alarms blares its standard, a-nuclear-attack-is-imminent siren. Last week, however, due to some life stress, I woke up at 3 a.m. and could not go back to sleep. Despite an extra few hours of awake time, I accomplished very little between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. and, predictably, felt pretty wiped out by that evening. Needless to say, that particular day was a hassle.

For mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), he woke up very, very early on the spaceship Avalon, and the word “hassle” does not even begin to describe his predicament. Jim, along with 4,999 passengers and 258 crew members are on a trip for 120 years from Earth to Homestead II, a newly-discovered, livable planet for humans, but he woke up 90 years too soon! He then struggles through the five stages of grief and resigned to the fact that he will die on this ship, alone.

This is the main premise for this science fiction picture, but it also carries comedic and romcom aspects and wraps itself into a somewhat-clumsy space adventure. In case you were wondering how the romantic element fits, a beautiful, talented writer named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up as well. Now, they both have a problem.

Director Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game” (2014), “Headhunters” (2011)) does have a problem on his hands as well, because after Jim and Aurora rise approximately 90 years too early, what does one do with them? They obviously wish to solve their seemingly impossible space travel issue, but they either need a miracle or advanced schooling in hibernation science. Neither appear plausible, although with nothing but time on their hands, perhaps they could enroll in some online sleeping courses.

Instead, the film runs through its overarching predicable narrative that cozies up Jim and Aurora and then tests their bond. Despite harboring in ludicrous circumstances, Pratt and Lawrence are very capable actors and do convincingly convey their characters’ emotions through a range of needed plot points to fill the story. You see, the massive Avalon transports thousands of human beings across the unreal vastness of space, and Jim and Aurora sometimes make individual decisions or express feelings that defy explanation too, but the two actors hang with the material and deliver the best that they can.

As far as someone else to converse with, an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) does the best that he can as well. He doubles as a sounding board and helps with friendly advice, which gives him an added advantage to arguably cinema’s most famous sounding board, Wilson, the volleyball in “Cast Away” (2000). For the record, it still amazes how much emotion resonates when “he” becomes lost at sea, even 16 years later, but I digress.

Unfortunately, “Passengers” does not effectively package any such scenes in its movie, but I certainly felt some emotion. Frustration comes to mind, while wishing for a better and less schizophrenic story, and especially for a picture that really looks terrific. The Avalon is a homey, comfortable version of Nostromo from “Alien” (1979) or the Event Horizon from “Event Horizon” (1997), but only truly compares with the two in terms of its enormous size. Thankfully, it contains all of the friendly creature comforts one could want, including a swimming pool, video game dance-off area and Arthur’s bar, of course.

Incidentally, Arthur’s libation office strangely resembles the infamous bar in “The Shining” (1980). Now, that is headscratcher, but then again, so is this movie.

(2/4 stars)

Image credits: Columbia Pictures

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