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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Life

When I reviewed Gods of Egypt last year, I said that Hollywood no longer makes B-Movies anymore.  They simply take what used to be considered budget films, and just throw gobs of money at it.  Life is another example of this.  If it had been made in the 80s or 90s, it would be a mid to low-budget Alien knock off starring a cast of nobodies that hardly anyone would notice.  In 2017, it features such big talent as Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Rebecca Ferguson, and showcases some of the finest technical credits available.

The script is the one thing that didn't get an upgrade.  This is another movie where the screenplay credit should simply list the past films it used for "inspiration".  It's also another movie where a group of hapless astronauts and scientists are picked off by a slimy alien life form that they discover and unwisely let loose upon the ship.  The late, great Roger Ebert used to label slasher films as "dead teenager movies", as all of them featured the same plot, where a bunch of teenagers are alive at the beginning, and dead at the end.  Life could be described as a "dead astronaut movie".  It follows the same basic structure, only it ages its characters up to adults, and sets the action in space.  However, in terms of smarts, these scientists are about as bright as the horny teenagers who used to go skinny dipping while the masked psychopath was lurking in the woods.

This movie harkens back to the time when intelligent life in a Sci-Fi movie meant that the creature was usually slimy with a lot of teeth, and often lurked in the shadows, or shot on by just out of frame of the camera.  These films were a dime a dozen at one time, but lately, Sci-Fi has gotten a lot smarter with the likes of Arrival, The Martian and Interstellar.  I have no problem with going back to a reliable formula, but at least you should try to make it your own just a little.  This movie simply regurgitates some cheap thrills, and throws a bunch of stock characters our way that are impossible to get behind, because we know so little about them.  There's the hero who's been isolated in space just a little too long (Gyllenhaal), the wise guy whose entire dialogue is made out of one liners (Reynolds), the female lead (Ferguson), the other female on board the ship (Olga Dihovichnaya), the black scientist (Ariyon Bakare), and the guy whose wife down on Earth just gave birth (Hiroyuki Sanada).  Now you know all you need to know about our cast.

They receive a sample from Mars that seems to possess a very tiny alien life form that starts out looking kind of like one of those Wacky Wall Walkers that you used to find in cereal boxes sometimes.  The crew is naturally excited about this discovery, and the little creature is named "Calvin" by some elementary school children down on Earth in a contest to name the alien.  Calvin the alien seems pretty docile at first, but as the crew keeps on poking and prodding it with electric shocks in order to get a reaction out of the creature, it quickly turns aggressive, and winds up wrapping itself around the hand of the lead scientist, breaking and twisting it into an unnatural shape.  The crew tries to lock the life form in the lab, but it naturally manages to escape, and immediately starts making its way throughout the ship, killing whatever unfortunate crew member that happens to encounter it.

To be fair, Life has been given a healthy budget, and it does look beautiful at times.  And director Daniel Espinosa does get a few good shots here.  But it's really hard to care about any of this when the script and the characters are so bargain-basement generic.  If you have ever seen one of the movies just like it, you can pretty much predict when the characters will die, and the order that they will be bumped off.  Since the movie gives us nothing to think about, all we can do is admire the technical credits, but that only takes the audience so far.  Eventually, we start to wonder if the movie is going to offer us anything new, and it never does.  The actors are fine, as is to be expected, but their characters are written so thinly, it's hard to get excited or concerned about them.

Life was originally supposed to open over Memorial Day weekend, but was bumped up to March.  My guess is that the studio wanted to stay away from Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant, which is coming out around that time, and they didn't want that movie to be fresh in audience's minds when this came out.  However, even at this earlier release date, it's impossible not to think about Scott's movie, and hope that it turns out better than this.

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