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'Life' is a knock-off of 'Alien,' and that's OK

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds try not to get eaten by a ravenous extraterrestrial. Sound familiar?
Life
Rebecca Ferguson is one of the overqualified actors in the lean, mean angry alien Alex Bailey

‘Life’
Director:
Daniel Espinosa
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

It features Ryan Reynolds and two of the writers of “Deadpool,” but don’t worry: “Life” is a straight-up, no-joke monster-in-space movie, not an obnoxious, self-impressed send-up. (OK, it has one joke — two if you count the ending.) It’s a high-end “Alien” knockoff, so polished and attractively cast that you might sometimes forget it has almost the same plot: A team of astronauts (and one poor, fat mouse) get pecked-off, one-by-one, by an extraterrestrial beastie. It’s not a Gigerian freakazoid this time but a shape-shifter; at various points it looks like a turtle and, once it devours more and more overqualified actors, a squid floating after its prey for some inventive, R-rated kills.

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It’s here that we offer what may sound like a strange theory: Originality isn’t always important. Sometimes it’s just as worthwhile to be familiar, even derivative. “Life” arrives two months ahead of “Alien: Covenant,” a film we haven’t seen, obviously, but has the unenviable task of bridging one prequel (“Prometheus”) with a classic (“Alien,” again), while clearing space for four more sequels. Classy budget and first-rate effects aside, “Life” is content to be a modest trifle. There are only six actors (including Reynolds as well as Jake Gyllanhaal and Rebecca Ferguson) and a simple mission: upon discovering life on Mars, then learning it has a hunger for humans, they must survive while ensuring their new friend doesn’t make the short trip to Earth.

It’s sad that the bar for movies is so low now that “may not have a sequel” feels like something special. You really watch “Life” just to see if it ever screws up. It does get sloppy towards the end, especially once our squiddie nemesis turns into a mere generic monster. But on the whole it's cool and confidently made, most of it comprised of one problem-solving activity after another. Director Daniel Espinosa — of the far more chaotic “Safe House” and the “Easy Money” not starring Rodney Dangerfield and Joe Pesci — lets the camera glide soothingly through zero gravity in slow pans and long takes that luckily don’t smack too much of “Gravity” ripoffs. In two years you’ll confuse "Life" with such fellow “Alien” ripoffs as “Galaxy of Terror” and “Creature,” but while it’s in front of you it’s lean and mean.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

 
 
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