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Thursday, March 30, 2017 12:04 am

Same old approach grounds Life

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan in Life.
PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES

 

I have to wonder who at Sony Pictures gave the green light for Daniel Espinosa’s Life. While it is a well-made movie and features good work from its fine cast, the derivative nature of the story pretty much assures the viewer that few to no surprises will be had. Adding to its woes, screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick use Alien as its template, and with the most current entry in that franchise coming out a mere seven weeks from now, the timing of Life’s release couldn’t be worse.

On a rescue mission to retrieve a wayward probe containing soil samples and other materials from Mars, the members of the International Space Station quickly succeed in doing so, turning over all it contains to science officer Dr. Derry (Ariyon Bakare). As any man in this position would, the good doctor begins to experiment with the samples, and wouldn’t you know it, finds microscopic life, which he stimulates and nurtures. Quickly it grows and changes, much to the concern of his fellow astronauts hotshot Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), lead officer Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), veteran spacewalker David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), engineer Sho Murakami (Hirouyuki Sanada) and Russian cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya).

No surprise that this creature quickly evolves and becomes malevolent, treating each crewmember as its latest meal. Equally predictable are scenes that seem to be required in movies of this sort, such as the “I can’t let you out, you’re quarantined” scene, in which one of the crew is stuck with the creature in an enclosed area, his cohorts screaming and arguing over to free him from danger or not; also are the “genius scientist does something stupid” moments. For smart people in charge of a space station worth billions of dollars, these folks pull some bonehead moves, which ensures that the monster in question can go on a rampage, knocking off its victims with a precision you can set your watch to.

Really, Alien was nothing new either as it was simply a haunted house movie set in outer space. However, what made it distinctive was the title creature, a truly original creation that would quickly become part of the pop culture, movie monster pantheon. There’s no worry that Life’s bad guy will be accorded such status. What begins as a tightly knit group of tendrils evolves into something resembling a silverfish before entering its betta fish stage, which is pretty much how it ends up, though it gains some weight with each crewmember it consumes and sprouts a few more arms giving it an octopus-like appearance. Not particularly malevolent, this alien does little to frighten us.

To be sure, this is a well-made movie, capably directed, professionally acted and featuring top-notch special effects, looking much grander than its relatively modest $58 million budget would suggest. Equally effective is the ironic ending which logically and effectively plays against expectations. Still, there simply isn’t anything distinctive enough to help Life separate itself from similar better-made features that have come before it.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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