Life (2017) Columbia/Sci-Fi-Horror RT: 103 minutes Rated R (language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror) Director: Daniel Espinosa Screenplay: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick Music: Jon Ekstrand Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey Release date: March 24, 2017 (US) Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya.
In this case, the title Life is a misnomer as there’s no evidence of it anywhere in this movie, intelligent or otherwise. It’s a lame Alien knock-off minus the suspense, thrills and jump scares. The story isn’t developed beyond its tired premise of an alien creature loose in a space station killing off crew members. The alien creature isn’t even that interesting. It starts off looking like one of those sticky toys that walk down walls when you throw them and grows into a tentacled CGI-creation that looks like a mutated lotus. Even on his worst day, H.R. Giger could have come up with something better. When the monster in a sci-fi-horror movie sucks, you know you’re in trouble.
The tragic thing is that Life starts off pretty good. Well, it doesn’t start out bad. It opens with the crew of the station successfully capturing a space probe from Mars that’s gone off-course. It contains soil samples which contain proof that life exists on other planets. The extract a single cell from one of the samples and manage to revive it. Back on Earth, it’s big news. People celebrate. Excited children ask the crew questions via satellite. Yes, one kid asks how they go to the bathroom. How original. One lucky girl (her school won some contest) gets to name it. She names it Calvin. So far, not bad.
At this point, the makers could have done great things. With a title like Life, the story could have gone in an intelligent direction. The idea that we’re not alone in the universe is an awesome one. Instead, the makers elect to go where many men (and women) have gone before. I like a good sci-fi-horror flick as much as the next guy, good being the operative term. Life is not good.
You may have noticed I haven’t referred to any of the crew members individually. Since the cast features at least two big names, I probably should. The thing is I’m not clear on what function many of them serve. Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) plays the guy who says things like “We’re not trained for this.” He looks worried the whole time. Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) is the cowboy of the bunch. He takes risks that could get him killed. Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation) is the den mother character forced to make hard decisions. She knows things the rest of the crew doesn’t. The biologist (Bakare, Jupiter Ascending) is black and paralyzed from the waist down. There’s also an Asian guy (Sanada, The Wolverine) and a Russian chick (Dihovichnaya). None of them stand out as any kind of bad ass. There is no Ripley among them (believe it or not).
Back to the story (such as it is), the single cell organism quickly grows into a more complex lifeform with highly developed problem-solving skills and a strong survival instinct. It escapes from its containment cube and starts picking off the crew. One of the stars pulls a Steven Seagal (a la Executive Decision) and dies early on. The rest of Life consists of the remaining characters trying to kill the creature and prevent it from reaching Earth.
Here’s the thing about Life. The makers really don’t seem to care about making an effective movie. The screenplay is more like an outline of a generic sci-fi-horror movie. The writers do nothing original or interesting with the premise. The direction by Daniel Espinosa (the Swedish crime thriller Easy Money) is positively lifeless. The pace is plodding and the story uninvolving. The movie basically goes through the motions as do the actors. Reynolds may as well have phoned it in; he brings none of the sass and sarcasm of his now-iconic Deadpool character. They could have replaced Ferguson with a plastic mannequin and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference.
The indifference of the filmmakers comes to define Life. It’s astonishingly mediocre. I can’t say anything terrible about it; I can’t say anything good about it. As a movie, it barely exists. Rarely have I seen a sci-fi-horror flick is such dire need of life support. The score is constant, overbearing and instantly forgettable. It adds nothing to the movie. The effects are merely okay. The set design isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Take away the name actors and you have a barely passable made-for-Syfy movie. Life is boring, unscary and so not worth the price of even a matinee ticket. Watch it on TV only if there’s absolutely nothing else on. Believe me, you’re not missing anything. There is no life in Life.