"Passengers" is an experiment in star power. Is pairing two of the biggest and most charismatic stars in the world enough to get people to the theater? Does it guarantee a good movie? The answers are maybe - and not really.
Director Morten Tyldum (the Oscar-nominated director of the snoozy historical drama, "The Imitation Game") follows up that critically acclaimed film with this decidedly different tale. "Passengers" offers big ideas and is infused with moral complications, but does too little to expound on the thematically interesting plot set-up by screenwriter Jon Spaihts. It seems that the folmmakers just want us to keep looking at Pratt and Lawrence and hope that everything will be okay.
Jim Preston (Pratt) is aboard the starship Avalon, which is carrying 5,000 other passengers and is headed for Homestead II, a new world in need of colonization. He wakes up 90 years too early, which could complicate his future on Homestead II. Jim wanders the ship in awe but soon realizes a solitary life for the next 90 years could be unbearable. His only form of contact is with robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), who is always eager to pour him a glass of whiskey with a smile. (Watch their scenes together and try not to think of "The Shining.")
Another passenger, Aurora Lane (Lawrence), wakes up over a year after Jim does. She is a writer, who is ready to start over in a new world, and is deeply panicked when awoken. Being the only two conscious people on a ship is bound to make anyone close, so Jim and Aurora's confinement transforms into a relationship.
The first half of "Passengers" works as a simple romance set in space. This is where the effortless charm of the stars and their gangbuster chemistry come into play and make part of "Passengers" something fun and entertaining. Once the film hits the midway point, it seems to abandon the issues that were raised before it and never looks back. Spaihts' script inserts a much ballyhooed decision by one of the characters but doesn't have the courage to see it through.
"Passengers" jarringly shifts from a romance to a disaster epic, so abruptly that it feels like another movie was spliced to the first half. When the Avalon's systems start to go haywire things become less interesting and any interest "Passengers" had created before quickly evaporates.
The film is certainly well-made and looks great (the great Rodrigo Preto shot the film) but that can only carry a film so far. "Passengers" feels risky but ultimately winds up feeling far too safe and conventional.