Release date: March 24, 2017
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Daniel Espinosa
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror)
Screenwriters: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya
Life, a space horror thriller starring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, revolves around an international crew of astronauts on a mission to study and, most importantly, keep secure the first Martian life form discovered by humans. If you’ve seen the trailer, or have seen any movie about space ever, you know that the mission…doesn’t go well.
The movie, which reunites Reynolds with Safe House director Daniel Espinosa and the writing team behind Deadpool, does accomplish its mission. Unfortunately, that mission is: “Be a so-so third date movie that people will talk about until they get to their cars and then forget once someone brings up whether or not to get ice cream.” That’s not to say that there aren’t generally funny moments (delivered almost exclusively by Reynolds) or that there aren’t generally surprising or scary moments (the most surprising of which also includes Reynolds). There are a bit of both but, when it’s said and done, it feels like you’ve seen it all before.
The movie opens with the crew preparing Reynolds for what looks like an unnecessarily dangerous space walk to capture a probe returning with the Martian specimens. This is all presented as one continuous long take, which is interesting and ambitious but lacks the real ‘Wow!’ moments of a movie like Gravity and has zero real suspense. Despite some pretty good anti-gravity effects, the scene’s sense of, “That was kinda cool, I guess” sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
After the single celled specimen is brought on board, much to the delight of Ariyon Bakare as ‘Dr. Guy-Whose-Fault-Everyone-Dies’, it begins to grow at an alarming pace, much to the concern of apparently no one besides Reynolds…but only kinda. There is something extra frustrating about apparently super intelligent scientists using super intelligent words to describe the super idiotic things they are doing that will get them super killed. The first act is super chock full of that.
Gyllenhaal is there too, his job is mostly to share a few moments of lukewarm sexual tension with Rebecca Ferguson and delivering contrived monologues. My god…the monologues. At about the fifth, which begins with Gyllenhall staring into the distance and recalling, “I remember when the Challenger exploded…” I groaned. By what felt like the 12th, as he recites Good Night Moon, I was actively rooting for the alien. Oh, and the alien is named Calvin, which is distractedly non-threatening, adding to its overall underwhelming presence.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Calvin grows bigger and smarter while damaging crucial parts of the space station, setting up a fight for survival on two fronts. The script doesn’t seem to know how to keep both going at the same time, however, and a lot of time is spent explaining why we should feel tense in the scene. There are a few moments of heroic self sacrifice and tense “We’re not gonna make it” moments to keep you semi-interested but by the time you reach the hard to follow twist ending, you’re already thinking about that ice cream.