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‘Passengers’ Review: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence Can’t Make This Disappointing Sci-Fi Pic Soar

2.5 stars (out of 4)

There are 5,000 passengers aboard the Avalon spacecraft. They’re all scheduled to hibernate for 120 years before arriving at a new colony called Homestead II. Two of them will wake up 90 years too early and have the run of the place, without another soul in sight.

These passengers might as well be played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence — arguably the most watchable young actors working today. They have charisma, oh yes they do. But they can’t make this anticipated slick sci-fi pic soar. Heck, it barely achieves liftoff. In a holiday season when one closely guarded genre film (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) already exceeded expectations, this starry effort has to be considered a letdown.

Related: Chris Pratt Got Awful Bruises From His 'Passengers' Stunts: See the Shirtless Pics

So who are these people and why would they all agree to press pause on their lives for more than a century? Answers to the understandable plot questions fly out the unpressurized window. In the opening moments, all we see is a peaceful-looking man (Pratt) in a pod being roused awake. His name is Jim, and he’s a mechanic. The automated voices and faces inform him that he’s been sleeping for 120 years, and it’s time to adjust to his new confines and get to know all his peers, cruise ship–style. But he’s all alone. He quickly realizes, to his horror, that something has gone very, very wrong.    

As denial turns to acceptance, Jim treats himself like a king in the luxurious four-story hub. He befriends a witty bartender droid (Michael Sheen). Then loneliness sets in. He needs a flesh-and-blood companion immediately. Of the female kind. So after a solid year of solitude, he pulls the trigger on the controversial decision to wake up a random (albeit gorgeous) girl, Lawrence’s Aurora. She rises, oblivious that the premature end to her slumber was no accident.

Related: Chris Pratt Keeps Cropping Jennifer Lawrence Out of Pics and It’ll Never Get Old

The couple soon banter over drinks, go on dates at the in-house karaoke dance club and fall in love. Jim encourages the professional writer, whose father was a famous author, to pen a book. The meet-cute courtship would be delightful if this were a New York City–set rom-com instead of a purported thriller in the cosmos. For reasons unknown, Jim and Aurora rarely mention they’re in grave danger and light-years from civilization. Bickering is kept to a minimum. In space, no one can hear you flirt.

The only way the premise works is if it’s viewed as an offbeat character piece. Jim isn’t going to suddenly ghost his new girlfriend and go on Tinder. They’re stuck with each other for the duration. But Aurora still feels the need to dress up in stilettos and her LBD for a night out at the droid’s bar. Her nails are done. Her hair is consistently shiny. And Jim … shaves. Meanwhile, she trusts this man to the fullest extent, unaware that he’s responsible for her doomed destiny. (In the future, people still die of old age.) And Jim is in no rush to tell her. The dialogue doesn’t quite support this fascinating gender-study concept, so just chew on it in between bites of popcorn. 

The curious relationship is heightened by the ultrasleek surroundings. The Avalon’s breathtaking futuristic design is state-of-the-art without seeming totally out of the realm of the possibility. If we Earthlings can order a cupcake by pressing a few buttons on an ATM, then naturally Jim and Aurora can tap up a fully loaded breakfast. (The origin of the fresh mango is another logistical head-scratcher.) And in one of many seriously cool visuals, Lawrence swims in a pool overlooking outer space.

Related: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence Diss Each Other During ‘Playground Insults’ Game: 'Where Do You Keep Your Oscar?’

Who knows where this space-age love story would have gone simply under these extreme conditions. But director Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) can’t let it breathe.

Indeed, the drama’s inventiveness comes to an abrupt end once Jim and Aurora are alerted to a systems glitch in the spacecraft. It’s a hopelessly rote and unnecessary plot device, leading to a glut of mindless action-flick sequences. Otherworldly suspense just doesn’t reverberate, not in a straightforward narrative like this one. Two strangers trapped in the galactic version of a desert island is interesting; avoiding a big explosion and barking numerical codes into a computer is not.

A genuine heroine would have helped. Lawrence, an Oscar winner, has the chops to own this movie in the style of Amy Adams in Arrival and Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Here, she’s reduced to Pratt’s spunky sidekick instead of his equal. She shouldn’t have to run around in a bouncy tank top yelling drivel like “Hurry!” and “What does this mean?!” It means your movie is in trouble, girl! And not even you can fix it.

Passengers opens Wednesday, December 21.

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