‘Life,’ the recent thriller in theaters now, is meant to be a heady shocker about very capable people dealing with the first indisputable proof of life on Mars. What it ends up being is a film that looks great, is populated by recognizable actors, yet is in service to a plot driven by some very poor decisions. That these decisions are made by individuals meant to represent the best the planet has to offer is the real shame of the movie.
It starts out stably and confidently enough, with a tautly staged sequence where the astronauts on the multi-billion dollar International Space Station orbiting Earth have to deftly capture an experimental probe that has veered off course during its’ return mission from Mars. Its’ contents are none other than the frozen cells of an organism thought to once populate the Red Planet when its’ environment was more suitable for sustaining life. The experts on board the station are the pre-eminent minds in their respective fields and it is their mission to coax the microorganism back to life within the most state-of-the-art quarantine protocols engineered for this purpose. This being a cautionary tale, as shown in the riveting, if familiar trailer, things go very badly, but in this case it’s not only for the characters but for the audience as well.
The set-up of telling a modernized, more grounded version of a trapped-in-a-restricted-setting-with-a-hostile-organism movie, akin to 1979’s seminal ‘Alien,’ is an enticing one. Unfortunately, ‘Life,’ wastes its’ talented cast by having them make the most ridiculous decisions possible in every scenario presented. The movie induces repeated audience groaning throughout the film’s runtime once it is past the first quarter’s enticing opening scenes, thus dulling the tension earned earlier. These scenes promised some solid character building of the astronauts, which include Ryan Reynolds (hot off ‘Deadpool’), Jake Gyllenhaal (a consistently interesting actor is films like ‘Nightcrawler’), and Rebecca Ferguson (an emerging talent who elevated typically underwritten female characters in films like the last ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’), but any solid work they do past that first segment is wasted on an increasingly dull screenplay.
It’s evident that screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (again of ‘Deadpool’ fame) got lazy while pushing to set-up and reach towards a ‘twist’ ending that actually induces laughter in its’ ‘Twilight Zone’/ B-movie feel. Although this was somewhat inspired for a film that seems to be going for a populist R-rated vibe, it ultimately doesn’t come close to redeeming it. To paraphrase a friend who had the displeasure of making it through the feature with me, the only choice worse than those made by the characters in this movie is choosing to watch it . . .
Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Written By: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Running Time: 114 min.
* ½ (out of 4 stars) -OR- D+