Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are stranded with a terrible script in sci-fi film Passengers
Passengers (12A) *
Why Him? (15) **
Collateral Beauty (12A) *
Ballerina (U) ***
Not even Jennifer Lawrence can save Passengers, a sinking (space) ship of a movie in which a collection of second-hand ideas combined with dodgy sexual politics have produced a sci-fi film of crushing tedium. Lawrence has top billing but is forced to play second banana to Chris Pratt, doing some of the ripest acting of his career as an interplanetary colonist awoken from hibernation 90 years before reaching his destination. Facing the prospect of dying alone while his fellow colonists sleep in suspended animation, rather creepily he starts researching the life of Lawrence’s sleeping writer, eventually deciding to sabotage her hibernation pod so he can have someone to share his life with – who cares if he’s condemning her to a lonely death in the process?
To be fair, for about five minutes the film does threaten to get dark and interesting when Lawrence discovers what he’s done. But the film – despite consciously trying to allude to The Shining with a robot barman (played by Micheal Sheen) and a lounge-bar straight out of the Overlook Hotel – abandons any suggestion that Pratt’s character is a sicko by giving him multiple heroic moments to redeem himself. Director Morten Tyldum (The Immitation Game) clearly hopes we’ll all be so blinded by the attractiveness of his star couple that we won’t care if Pratt’s character comes off as some kind of passive aggressive sex pest attempting to Stockholm-syndrome his captive into accepting her fate.
To make matters worse, there’s not even any mystery to the set up, which has been ripped of from Alien, but is ultimately revealed to be the result of a malfunction in the space ship. All that’s left is some empty effects work and the worst dialogue this side of Nicholas Sparks. Sci-fi fans should do themselves a favour and go see Rogue One or Arrival again instead.
Why Him? It’s a question fans of Breaking Bad might ask of Bryan Cranston upon watching this sluggish, over-long, laugh-light Christmas comedy. Cast as a disapproving father press-ganged into meeting his beloved daughter’s new boyfriend over the holidays, he’s certainly deserving of better material than a post-Judd Apatow riff on Meet the Parents. James Franco is the potential son-in-law: a tattooed, profanity spewing tech millionaire whose on-the-spectrum inability to filter his thoughts immediately rubs Cranston’s set-in-his ways small businessman up the wrong way as he struggles to wrap his head around silicon valley’s hipster ways. Any comedy potential in the intergenerational conflict is squandered on weak jokes about toilet-paper-free bathroom routines.
Still, it’s not as bad as Collateral Beauty, the latest whack-a-doodle slab of gooey cosmic nonsense to star Will Smith (see also Seven Pounds and After Earth). Here Smith plays a grief-stricken ad executive whose partners (played by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña) conspire to prove he’s unfit to run their failing company in order to force the board to let them sell off his controlling interest and secure the jobs of all their employees (not to mention a healthy payout for themselves). Their plan involves intercepting some letters he’s written to “time”, “death” and “love” and hiring a trio of actors – played by Keira Knighley, Jacob Latimore and Helen Mirren, who can’t seem to decide if she’s playing her character as English or American – to confront him on the street as if they’re physical manifestations of these concepts. The cruelty of their scheme is amplified by the fact they’ve not only hired someone to film these encounters, but are planning to digitally remove the actors from the footage to make poor Will seem even crazier. But might there be some weird Christmas miracle twist? Well, yes, but it makes so little sense it begins to seem as if the filmmakers are pranking us.
Finally, with almost nothing new in cinemas for really young kids, Ballerina provides an inoffensive animated alternative to the big Christmas blockbusters. French-Canadian in origin, but re-dubbed with an American voice cast, it’s about a young orphan pursuing her dream of becoming a dancer at the Paris Opera. The film does a nice job of capturing the magic of the French capital in the late 19th century and though it gets a bit saccharine, it at least features a heroine working hard to be good at something. ■