How bad can it be, really, if you’re Chris Pratt, or you’re Jennifer Lawrence, and you have to spend the rest of your lives together alone on a giant space ship where every need is satisfied? Aurora, Lawrence’s character in the Morten Tyldum-directed “Passengers,” is especially fortunate — she’s a so-so writer with a captive audience gushing over her hackneyed phrases.
For those watching it might get a little dull, however, especially when the dialogue, by “Doctor Strange” co-screenwriter Jon Spaihts, is on a par with Aurora’s prose. But as an existential allegory the premise has possibilities. In the distant future (probably around the time that “WALL-E” is set) Aurora and Pratt’s character, Jim, have opted to give up their lives on an “overcrowded and overpriced” Earth to take the 120-year trip to settle on a habitable planet. Their motives are sketchy and banal. Aurora tells Jim that his reasons sound like the slogans from the emigration company’s advertising (or, for that matter, like her own writing). “Sometimes slogans are true,” Jim replies.
But things don’t go as planned and they are awakened from their hibernation pods 90 years too soon. Luckily, they both look like movie stars and soon get romantically involved. But there is an original sin in their Eden, and the two are estranged, left to drown their sorrows separately at the starship bar, tended by the impeccable and platitude-purring android Arthur (played by Michael Sheen as a cross between the barkeep in “The Shining” and C-3PO).
What is the purpose of life? Are people doomed to solitude? Can unforgivable things be forgiven? Good questions, but the ship starts breaking down, and so does the movie.
More spectacular special effects might have helped, or at least something more creative than a spaceship that resembles a giant Christmas tree ornament shaped like a corkscrew. Perhaps as a well-written play for a cast of three, “Passengers” might have been first class. Instead, it’s just another mediocre thrill ride.
Directed by Morten Tyldum. Written by Jon Spaihts. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen. At Boston Common, Fenway and suburbs. 101 minutes. PG-13 (sexuality, nudity and action/peril). ]Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.