Film Review: Life

More like “lifeless.”
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Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick made a splash last year with foul-mouthed little movie that could Deadpool, which mixed up the standard superhero formula with a few heaping doses of R-rated sex, violence and meta-humor. Its small budget, by superhero-movie standards anyway, was offset by a big personality, and audiences responded to the tune of three quarters of a billion dollars worldwide. So Reese and Wernick clearly know from writing engaging characters and dialogue. Why, then, is their latest, director Daniel Espinosa’s Life, so damn bland?

Take a lot of Alien, a little bit of Gravity, and leech just about every interesting element from both, and you have this space-set thriller, in which a team of six astronauts on the International Space Station accidentally bring a creature with the potential to destroy all life on Earth onboard. The alien, which looks like nothing so much as transparent stingray (ooh, scary?), gets bigger and bigger and begins picking the crew-members off one by one. The survivors, dwindling in numbers, must prevent the creature, dubbed “Calvin,” from hitching a ride planet-side on their craft. There’s nothing even remotely inventive at play here. In fact, I’m getting tired just thinking about it.

All the stock character types are present, given little depth by Reese and Wernick’s thin script. There’s the character (Hiroyuki Sanada) whose wife back home just had a kid and another (Rebecca Ferguson) who’s clearly keeping secrets about the true nature of their mission. There’s the goofball (Ryan Reynolds) and the vet with a tragic past (Jake Gyllenhaal), the stoic captain (Olga Dihovichnaya) and the wide-eyed scientist (Ariyon Bakare). Good actors, all, but they’re given nothing to do—the characters are one-note, and you know so little about who they are and how they relate to one another that it’s tough to care what happens to them.

The below-the-line talent, like the actors, are wasted on this trip to blahsville. The cinematography, by Seamus McGarvey (Oscar-nominated for Atonement and Anna Karenina), is stylish; an early scene where the camera swoops around and eventually ends up upside-down, a nod to the ISS’ lack of gravity, was one of the few times I was truly engaged in the onscreen proceedings. Two-time Oscar winner Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Room with a View) is on costumes. The score, by Jon Ekstrand (Espinosa’s Child 44), is soaring and epic…and belongs in a better movie. It writes checks that the film, with its all but complete lack of drama, can’t cash.

It’s not that Life is a terrible film. It looks good. It’s acted well. There’s no concrete, workable list of problems you can address to make it a better movie. All the elements for a successful, if small-scale, original sci-fi outing are present, except for the big one: a convincing argument for why it was made in the first place. As it is, the whole thing’s nothing so much as pointless.

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