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The Mass Media

‘Life’: Same Sci-Fi Plot, Different Day

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‘Life’ (Movie)

The Hollywood sci-fi genre was screaming out loud and proud in a way that it hasn’t been in years. That is, of course, until “Life” brought the genre’s long-overdue revival to a near-screeching halt.

Directed by Daniel Espinosa (known for his work on “Safe House”) and written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (known for their work on “Deadpool”), “Life” stars Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and multifaceted Golden Globe nominee Ryan Reynolds (otherwise known as Deadpool).

Ultimately, “Life” is a relatively good film for about 39 minutes. Basically, any time Reynolds was on screen, the film was sufferable. However, in the end, what transpired thereafter is yet another failed attempt at a cliché story about mankind versus aliens in outer space. How many times are they going to give us these overdone and outdated alien-centered film plots?

The movie tries, and fails, to live up to the level of awesomeness that the heavy-hitting sci-fi films that came before it were able to hit. Films like 2013’s “Gravity” were able to give us that awesomeness. “Life,” however, felt like an “Aliens” movie, like Espinosa ripped a page right out of Ridley Scott’s worn-out and overused playbook. Even with acting heavyweights like Gyllenhaal and Reynolds driving the cast, “Life” still misses its exit and thus never quite reaches its intended destination.  

I wanted to like this film. Ever since “Blade: Trinity” and “Prince of Persia,” I’ve been a fan of Reynolds and Gyllenhaal, respectively. Also, it was nice to see Ferguson make the switch to the big screen; after her leading role in the critically-acclaimed Starz miniseries “The White Queen” in 2013, she kind of fell off the grid for a little while.

Visually, “Life” looks and sounds just like every other outer space film that has come out since “Gravity.” It was filled with mechanical malfunctions and political conundrums, mixed with petrified scientists in an ever-so-callous universe that could care less about the safety of human life. By now, we get it, Hollywood. Outer space is terrifying. If you’re like me and get your sci-fi fix from Star Trek or Star Wars, then works such as “Life” will do little to nothing to sate your appetite.

After the relatively warm-and-fuzzy space odysseys of “Arrival” and “Passengers,” it’s salutary to see a relatively big studio sci-fi picture in which the final frontier is once again designated to the status of the Ultimate Menace. Genre thrill-seekers disgusted or disappointed by “Prometheus” but still salivating like Pavlov’s Dog at the prospect of “Alien: Covenant” might find “Life” a satisfactory stopgap measure, finding it to be a cinematic Epipen of outer-space mayhem to steady the nerves until the ostensible Main Event.

There’s also the constant, insistent score by Jon Ekstrand bearing down right from the opening and not doing much for the cause. There are some disquieting bits—the early scene in which the maturing Calvin grabs onto Hugh’s gloved hand and simply will not let go is a nice burner, for sure. But the movie’s story “beats” are inescapably commonplace. There’s even a bit derived from “The Thing From Another World” in which one ill-advised character contemplates Calvin’s scientific awesomeness. Either screenwriters Reese and Wernick don’t have the ability to bring this genre to life, or there really are only so many things you can do with a homicidal space creature on a manned ship.
Though I would advise against it, if one absolutely insists on seeing this film, then so be it. Hop in and enjoy, if you can. But bring a pillow.