Conciliatory Blend of Familiar Elements
It is such a disturbing experience to have to go through another contemptible movie, but no one is supposed to find that out until after paying for an admission ticket to watch Rodrigo Garcia’s convoluted film Passengers. No matter how hard he tries, it can never be either soulful or scary.

This psychological thriller/romance combo follows the aftermath of a plane crash whose few survivors are treated by a young fidgety psychotherapist, Claire (Anne Hathaway). Assigned by her mentor, Perry (Andre Braugher), she must depressurize a quintet of airplane crash survivors through their shock and grief because the crash killed 103 people. However, she encounters particular difficulties with one of them, the handsome, euphoric Eric (Patrick Wilson) a survivor who is determined to bury his fear and other crash-related traumas. While others display behavior more consistent with massive emotions, Eric is high-spirited and impassioned by a newfound energy. He flirts with Claire, and asks her out on dates, which strikes her as odd and places her in an ethical doctor-patient predicament. The chemistry between these two very pretty actors veers their flirtation in the tantalizing direction of professional misconduct. Inexplicably, Eric seems to know minor details about Claire’s life. He urges her to reunite with her estranged sister, Emma (Stacy Grant).

As her feelings for Eric begins to cross the line from professional to personal, she also starts to suspect there was more to the accident than what was officially reported. Her patients have conflicting memories of what happened on board the doomed aircraft. Some of the crash survivors seem to recall an explosion. Their memories of the accident generally conflict with the airline’s account, a party line insistently maintained by diabolical corporate representative Arkin (David Morse). Soon enough, these outspoken patients mysteriously stop attending the group sessions, and she fears they may have come to some harm as she finds herself swimming in paranoia, suspecting Arkin, who shadows her, of having a hand in their disappearance, possibly to cover up the real reasons for the crash.

The drama — also alternately a romance, and even possibly a supernatural thriller later shifts its focus to “What really happened on that plane?”. That’s when it goes terribly wrong. In addition to aspiring to be a perceptive portrait of emotional healing, it’s also a supernatural mystery, a romantic comedy, a family sentimental and a corporate conspiracy drama. One single plot might have satisfied audiences; fractions of them will not. Various weird characters wander in and out of the narrative without any explanation, creating a sense of solicitude and the notion that something else is going on in the story, which proves Passengers is anything but a thriller, in spite of the chills provided by the dreaded Morse peeking around corners. Anyone who doesn’t see the supposed twist ending coming from miles away just hasn’t seen enough thrillers. Viewers can effortlessly figure out for themselves what the film’s hidden agenda is.

Passengers is a muted, uncanny but ultimately conciliatory blend of familiar elements from Final Destination, The Sixth Sense, Fearless, and ABC’s Lost, full of bits and pieces of jargon from psychiatry or psychotherapy without particular accuracy or relevance. The end result is a middlebrow tone flick aiming for ambiguity but often digresses into soporific, suspending answers en route to an ending that explains all. Colombian-born director Rodrigo Garcia makes a considerable departure from his superior works like Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her. But sadly, this departure is a wrong one.

The film’s existential story conceit hinges on the element of surprise, yet it fails to strike viewers with a sudden feeling of astonishment. This unpleasant piece turns out to be an existential puzzle, the kind whose climactic revelations are meant to inspire viewers to come back and watch it through newly enlightened eyes and realize that what they mistook for flaws in the filmmaking. The clues here are awkward pacing and a vaguely ethereal quality to some of the dialogue, embedded in an inept narrative framework because director Garcia and screenwriter Christensen have no interest in providing the thrills, jolts and intellectual rigor that usually accompany such plot-driven exercises.

Because this restrained, confused film ultimately goes off track with a borrowed plot twist and an excess of bombastic psychoanalysis, charming performances from its leads and interesting subplots about family reconciliation and the enduring influence of loved ones, seem pointless in the end. Moreover, everyone in the film is a gifted actor, doing meaningful work for absolute zero gain. Hathaway is particularly strong, though she’s given so little to do besides penetrate in people’s problems with her bright brown eyes. Superb professionals Hathaway and Wilson do their part to conceal the film’s lack of energy and originality, with Wilson bringing a slyly teasing spark to his character that threatens to make things almost interesting. Garcia’s film, with its diffuse aims,  guarantees such a disappointing experience by mostly failing to engage.

Rating: 2/5

To see Passengers in theatres, check your local listings

Criticetc is a journalism/film/book critic in Bangkok and Pattaya, and at http://www.bkklive.com    and http://www.cinemania.com

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