Director: Morten Tyldum
Stars: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence
1 Globe (out of 5)
The best part of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” isn’t one of the zombie massacres or any of the gooey headshots. It’s a bloodless montage two-thirds of the way through. Our plucky heroes have managed to rid an entire shopping mall of the ravenous undead. The place is finally theirs. At first it’s fun: They can take whatever they want, plowing through stores like richies wielding blank checks. But as the weeks march on, it becomes depressing. Handed the American consumerist dream on a platter, they eventually find it boring. They long to be anywhere else, so long as there’s no J.C. Penny’s or a 1970s arcade.
The opening stretch of “Passengers” recalls “Dawn of the Dead”’s mall hoe-down, only it’s in space. Chris Pratt plays Jim, a blue collar bro who’s one of thousands cruising across the galaxy, headed for a new life on a far-off planet. Everyone, from passengers to crew, are encased in 120 years of hypersleep. Thanks to a cryptic malfunction, Jim is suddenly awoken early — some 90 years early. With no way of getting himself back to sleep, he’s trapped alone on a floating vessel, albeit one that has (for fairly silly reasons) fancy restaurants, robot waiters, a swimming pool and other untold luxuries. Jim, too, quickly learns that having anything he wants soon deadens the soul, especially when he’s the only human around.
Enjoy this stretch, with its jokes and gallows humor and a deadpanning Michael Sheen as a robot bartender; what follows is a bumpy ride. Jim eventually does find another human — or more accurately, he wakes one up. Her name is Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), a beautiful and very asleep writer Jim falls for, partly because a year by himself has driven him mad with loneliness, partly because she looks like Jennifer Lawrence. He anguishes over short-circuiting her sleeping chamber; once he does it anyway, he doesn’t reveal the truth: that he’s effectively damned her to die with a crusty sociopath in the deep nether-regions of outer space. Instead he woos her. Minus any other options, the two fall in love, Aurora profoundly unaware her relationship is built on a horrific lie, but bound to find out around the halfway mark.
To reveal how this turns out would be to engage in cruel spoilering. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well, at least for any viewer grossed out by sick male fantasies. And this is one sick male fantasy — essentially a tale of rape in which the victim learns to love her rapist. It makes Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” which slyly avoids turning deplorable, look like “Finding Dory.” One watches it while nervously biting nails, for it’s not always clear that it will definitely end the way it does. Aurora is, as you can imagine, not pleased when she learns the truth, while Pratt gives Jim a slightly creepy vibe; he’s no lovable lunk but a pathetic man-child, endearing so long as he’s not hurting anyone. Maybe “Passengers” really will find an ending that doesn’t normalize despicable behavior? Maybe its screenwriter really did read that old Onion article “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested”? Alas. In space, no one can hear you recommend Hollywood execs read basic feminist literature.