Life (Movie Review)

Life (Movie Review)
4 10

Life movie review Jake Gyllenhaal Ryan Reynolds Rebecca Ferguson

PLOT: An international space station has discovered the first sign of extraterrestrial life on Mars. Too bad for them it starts growing exponentially fast and develops a taste for its human hosts.

REVIEW: In the 80s, sci-fi and horror fans were treated to a countless number of ALIEN knockoffs, for better or worse. (We looked back at two such items just the other day.) Almost all of these movies were bad; goofy, cheap, and not owning 1/10th of the nail-biting suspense of Ridley Scott's masterpiece. But... just as many of them delivered fun times, at least in a midnight movie sense. You could see there was a sort of hare-brained energy to the productions; they were cash-ins, of course, but plenty of them tried to make their middling budgets work as well as possible and give the audience the cheap thrills they were after.

Now, about 38 years too late, comes LIFE, which is sadly (if you'll pardon a pun I'm sure 100 other critics are using) lifeless. This one does have a budget it can do anything with, and an impressive international cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, and yet it's less amusing than any of those silly ALIEN knock-offs I can currently think of. It's not so much that LIFE is an intensely bad movie, its that it's an aggressively bland one. A film without personality, verve or passion, it sits there like it's waiting for something, anything, to make a case for its existence. It would be one thing if LIFE were so-bad-it's-good, but it's too forgettable of an experience for that kind of classification.

Surprising, too, that it comes from writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the scribes behind DEADPOOL and ZOMBIELAND, two lovable movies that subvert their genres while being stand-out examples of how said genres can still be fresh. Expecting them to do the same thing with LIFE is unwise, since the movie is colorless and grim. The cast, save for Reynolds, often looks depressed. I suppose you could argue that's suitable given the situation their characters are put in, but there's still a palpable lack of enthusiasm emanating from the screen. I had anticipated simply being grateful that people (other than Ridley Scott) are still making R-rated killer alien movies, but LIFE dashed my hopes with its tedious presentation.

Life movie review Jake Gyllenhaal Ryan Reynolds Rebecca Ferguson

The set-up is one we've indeed seen many times before. A small crew of six searching for life on Mars finds it in the form of a teeny-tiny organism that has been nicknamed "Calvin" by contest-winning school kids. (A lesson, folks: Don't let little kids name the pets.) Of course, this is cause for celebration, and scientist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) takes to looking after Calvin like a proud parent. Calvin begins to grow rather fast (red flag time), but Hugh has apparently not seen any of those ALIEN knockoffs and insists on poking and prodding the thing. Before you know it, Calvin is doing some poking and prodding of its own, having discovered its purpose in life is to be the villain of a Hollywood horror flick. The alien escapes containment and sets about killing the crew, one by one, while they struggle to figure out which doors to slam in its face. (Seriously, there's a door-slam scene every five minutes.)

This remarkable crew is actually made up of rather uninteresting people. Gyllenhaal, very subdued until he has to scream, plays a doctor who prefers space to Earth. Rebecca Ferguson, also subdued, is a stern-faced British doctor. Hiroyuki Sanada is a Japanese scientist whose wife just gave birth back on Earth, so there's his motivation. Olga Dihovichnaya is the Russian captain of the ship, and I couldn't even really tell you if there's a single bit of backstory given to her but she's very serious as well. Only Reynolds is having any fun, and that's because he's playing the Ryan Reynolds character; a wise-cracking goofball who gets down to business only when the occasion calls for it. Many of these movies don't have characters that are well-rounded or profound, but LIFE's characters are distinctly uninvolving, and that's a problem when it comes time to care about who lives and who dies.

I presume some people will credit LIFE for being just what it is, a by-the-book monster-in-space movie with no time for character development or complexity. I suppose I could have lived with that if the movie were actually fun, but it's not. Director Daniel Espinosa (SAFE HOUSE) displays some flair during a handful of sequences, though mostly it seems like he's cribbing from GRAVITY (a prolonged unbroken shot near the opening of the film all but begs to be compared to Alfonso Cuaron's epic). What he doesn't do much of is create tension or produce frights. LIFE is very un-scary, though maybe that can be attributed to the unappealing alien antagonist. Looking like a mix between a jellyfish and one of those water aliens from THE ABYSS, Calvin's big kill-move is hugging people to death. Like a space octopus, it wraps its tendrils around its victim and gives them a good squeeze. Nasty, yes, but barely horrifying. "Clingy," is the word I'd use for this supposedly ghastly extraterrestrial.

It doesn't help that the movie attempts to pull the rug out at the very end, giving us a sour punchline that's supposed to be cleverly nihilistic but ends up being A) predictable and B) unlikable. We're already sat grudgingly through this dopey movie resigned to the fact it's not a winner, now you give us this conclusion? I'm not going to say "LIFE sucks" because that's too easy, but LIFE surely is a disappointment.

Extra Tidbit: LIFE opens March 24th.



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