It seems the space movie has become a requisite for this season: “Gravity”, “Interstellar”, “The Martian”, and now “Passengers”, a celestial romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as star-crossed couple Aurora and Jim. Along with 5,000 other passengers aboard the spacecraft Avalon, they are en route to Homestead II, a planet owned by a corporation that makes eight or so gazillion—or 8 million-billion—dollars giving people an alternative to an overcrowded Earth.
Unlike the other 4,998 paying customers, Jim and Aurora emerge from their cryosleep early—roughly 90 years shy of their 120-year journey. Jim, a mechanic who’d awakened a year prior to Aurora, has tried everything to figure out how to re-hibernate, to no avail. The door to the ship’s bridge is impenetrable. The computer doesn’t understand his conundrum. And since Jim isn’t a Gold Club member, he’s stuck drinking crappy coffee.
So what’s a guy to do? Other than suicide, which he comes close to attempting, drinking seems like a pretty good option. During the grief stage of his situation, Jim makes the acquaintance of android bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen), who surely owes something to Lloyd from “The Shining”. (Except Lloyd, I think, was better at keeping secrets).
Then Aurora comes along and changes everything. She’s a journalist who intends to make the trip to Homestead II for a year, and then head back to Earth to write her masterpiece. As the Avalon swivels through space like an enormous chrome rotary engine, she begins to accept her fate; the passage of time is no longer indicated by the length of Jim’s beard, but by the progression of their relationship. A rather old-fashioned courtship ensues (during which Jim uses his engineering skills for some cutesy romantic gestures). As an audience, one could certainly be in worse company. I mean, could you possibly pair two more likable actors? With all of the critical failures that occur during “Passengers”, the evolving dynamic between Lawrence and Pratt isn’t one of them.
Tech concepts are generally pretty cool, director Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) and his production team fancying the sort of idyllic sleek design of “Elysium”, something that people would believably shell out big bucks to inhabit. But all it takes is for one asteroid to slip past the Avalon’s particle shield to cause cascading malfunctions—and you don’t want to be in the swimming pool when the gravity goes out. I suppose there’s a metaphor there, but writer Jon Spaihts just punches a hole in the hull and let’s space do the rest.
Area Theaters December 21st