Passengers has a solid science-fiction premise and two attractive, appealing stars. What could possibly go wrong? That’s the same question the movie asks when one passenger out of 5,000 accidentally wakes up 90 years before he’s supposed to on a long-range trip to a new planet. Unfortunately screenwriter Jon Spaihts doesn’t have a good answer.

There are worse fates than being stuck watching Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt for a couple or hours. He plays an ordinary guy who finds himself in an extraordinary situation. Forced to fill every day all alone, he takes advantage of every amenity his spacecraft has to offer and engages in awkward conversations with a robotic bartender (Michael Sheen).

Then through means I won’t divulge, he acquires a companion on his lonely journey: a smart, beautiful young woman. She is as horrified as he is at their fate, with no resort but to merely exist in a modern but barren environment. Then things happen.

Years ago this would have been a Twilight Zone episode. It would have lasted a half-hour and had a great punchline. This movie runs just under two hours and its resolution, which comes with surprising abruptness, leaves us wanting.

In many ways, production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (whose credits include Inception) is the movie’s other star. Passengers looks great, and Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (who came to international attention with The Imitation Game) makes the most of the spectacular sets and orchestrates his visual effects with confidence.

Pratt is a perfect everyman character, while Lawrence is charismatic and beautiful. But star power and cool sets cannot support a movie without a good third act.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024