PASSENGERS (2016, Morten Tyldum)
In the great NOTTING HILL, Hugh Grant’s character watches an Anna Scott joint in the theater, and it’s a goofy-looking sci-fi romance with Anna (Julia Roberts, of course) in a terrible wig. Curtis and Michell don’t exactly directly say that Anna makes dumb Hollywood product (although her happy ending does involve finally making a Henry James adaptation), but they do a good job of implying it with those shots of the fake movie. The third act of PASSENGERS feels like you’re Hugh Grant watching Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence re-enact some fake sci-fi movie that can’t possibly exist. It’s just too cheesy.
But it does exist, and it did get released. And in doing so, somehow it’s still way better than the SNL sketch it might sound like on paper. The positive qualities all come from some of the things Hollywood does best: terrific production design (what a cool fucking spaceship), expert photography (Rodrigo Prieto does no wrong), gorgeous costume design (the space clothes are both trendy and futuristic, without looking like ridiculous STAR TREK shit), and the most vital element: two huge mega movie stars. The star wattage of Pratt and Lawrence on screen could power a city grid, and for the first hour we ride that charm through a highly watchable popcorn blockbuster. It starts like ALL IS LOST or CAST AWAY (with Michael Sheen as an android Wilson) and turns into the first season of the lame Fox sitcom “The Last Man On Earth.” But a lot funnier.
Sadly, things get really creepy and icky, which is weird because they didn’t need to be. The moral conflicts that take over and drive the rest of the film are pointless, and the even-more-ridiculous action climax just feels desperate. Tack on the two or three endings, and you have something that feels workshopped to death, when the first draft was probably the cleanest, best, and least grossly retrograde. Jon Spaihts is the only credited writer, but it feels like this is the product of a studio that sucks at complex material, but excels at flashy, shiny things. So this might be the most Hollywood movie of the year, which says some things good about it, and a lot of things really bad.