Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Passengers

3.5/4

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

Rated PG-13 for Sexuality, Nudity and Action/Peril

Romantic on-screen chemistry requires two things: one, we like the characters, and two, we like them more when they're together.  It's not an easy thing to achieve, but when it happens, it all comes together.  Unlike this year's romantic dud "Allied," there is chemistry between the two lovers (not the least of which is because we see them smile and laugh, something that almost never happened in the WWII drama that no one saw).

The spaceship Avalon is making a 120-year voyage to Homestead II, where 5,000 people, plus the 200-odd crew will make their new home.  Jim Preston (Pratt) wakes up and gets acclimated to spend the next four months on the ship before getting off on his new planet.  He quickly realizes there is something very wrong: he's the only one there.  He woke up early.  90 years too early.  With only a robotic bartender named Arthur (Sheen) to talk to, Jim tries to find a way to get back to hibernation.  It's a futile cause.  While drowning his sorrows in boredom and whiskey, he sees a girl in her pod named Aurora Lane (Lawrence), with whom he becomes infatuated.  Reading her file and work (she's an author), he becomes obsessed with her.  He makes the sleazy decision to wake her up (and subsequently lie about it).  The more they spend time together, the deeper the bond between them grows.  But things are going wrong all over the ship.  Little things, then bigger and bigger...

In essence, this is a romance.  Sci-fi romance, but romance nonetheless.  As such, its success relies entirely on the chemistry between A-listers Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  Unlike many romances starring A-list talent (such as the aforementioned "Allied," they weren't cast solely for their ability to sell tickets (although that probably helped).  Pratt and Lawrence play well off each other.  They "click."  It's not a romance for the ages, like "Titanic" or "Casablanca," but it's effective enough in its own right.  I was surprised how caught up in it I got.  I always found Chris Pratt to be more appropriate for a character actor than a leading man, but he's more than capable of holding his own against the sparkplug named Jennifer Lawrence.

Director Morten Tyldum, who made "Headhunters," which I didn't like, and "The Imitation Game," which I did, has a firm grasp on the material.  He allows the characters to breathe, which is essential for any romance.  Nervous or unskilled directors often skirt any heavy dialogue or slow parts, fearing boredom on part of the audience.  Tyldum is smart enough to know that that is what builds the romance.  The tone is perhaps a little too somber to really make the heart sing, but it is a more introspective and existential movie than, say, "Titanic."  It's not as light as "Star Wars" but not nearly as gritty as "Interstellar" or "Pandorum," two movies with similar concepts.

"Passengers" works because it shoots for the stars (no pun intended), and while there are some pacing issues and lapses in logic to move the plot along, it gets pretty damn close.

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