By Andrew Buckner
Rating: *** out of *****.
Life (2017) is, for better and for worse, exactly what I expected it to be. The photoplay, predictably, takes its every move from the Alien (1979) playbook. Correspondingly, the plot, which involves a space crew being systematically slaughtered by an ever-evolving extraterrestrial creature, is where this is most evident. Yet, it forgets many of the things that made Ridley Scott’s movie so legendary. This is its constant balance of the awe-inspiring and the ominous. But, what is most noticeably lacking is Scott’s well-developed, relatable characterizations. Moreover, Life is in too much of a rush to unveil its monstrous threat. The consequence of this is, besides ignoring the gradual and meticulous build-up of Scott’s classic, merely a forced attempt. This is at getting the audience to know its broadly etched leads in a wholly secondary and unoriginal fashion. Albeit, in the scant twenty-minutes of screen time allotted before the martian organism, Calvin, takes over. Such makes the endeavor ultimately feel heedless and generic. In turn, this science-fiction/ horror entry never gives its proven capable cast, helmed by Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan and Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North (both of whom deliver satisfactory, serviceable performances), a chance to really make their characters a stand-out. Additionally, Ryan Reynolds again enacts another cloying, and unnecessarily comic, variation of his usual on-screen persona. This is in his one-note representation of Rory Adams. What also hurts matters is that the sets, though detailed, and low-tech effects are mediocre at best.
Yet, there is a dogged B-movie charm to the whole endeavor. This is heightened by the competent writing from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and Daniel Espinosa’s same-said direction. Such qualities make these flaws easy to forgive. Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping cinematography, Jon Ekstrand’s score and Jenny Beavan’s costumes are also impressive. The same can be said of the sharply rendered sound department work as well as Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker’s seamless editing.
Espinosa’s endeavor is never terrifying. It also fails to sufficiently erect and maintain a genuine atmosphere of suspense. This is despite its numerous attempts. Furthermore, the majority of the scares are of a garden-variety ilk. Yet, this Skydance Media, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and Columbia Pictures release is certainly an enjoyable, if ultimately minor, distraction.
The project undoubtedly benefits from concluding on one of the most intriguing and smirk-inducing bits in the whole production. Such is a nice send-off to a third act that is, like the movie itself, alternately amusing and absurd. A prime example of this is found in a near-climactic segment which involves Gyllenhaal tearfully reading Margaret Wise’s timeless children’s book Goodnight Moon (1947). It is clearly designed to evoke an emotive resonance with its audience. Instead it conjures laughter. As this sequence goes on, it also proves to be extraneous. Still, the overall result of this severely flawed affair is familiar, but fair, entertainment. Espinosa has constructed the type of clunky, imitative picture that is best described as “a guilty pleasure”. It is one perfectly suited for viewing on a rainy day.
103 minutes. Rated (R) for violence and language. Opened on March 24th, 2017.