‘Passengers’ Is Probably, Mostly Just a Vehicle for Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence’s Raw Charisma

Is it just me or are Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence doing an awful lot of press these days? Everywhere I look it’s another super trending, mega-vi, hella fun clip of those two charming so-and-sos. It’s almost like they have a new movie out together. But didn’t Arrival come out last month?

Just this week the two mega-stars have made separate appearances on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Late Show with James Corden. Last week, Pratt was on The Tonight Show for an extended Mad Libs Theatre sketch.

Their joint “Schoolyard Insults” video was the top trending video on YouTube this week, and in just three days it became one of BBC Radio 1’s most-watched videos in years. And together they’ve been on Ellen, The Graham Norton Show, random Spanish YouTube shows, Good Morning America, and a Facebook Live sit-down interview with German newspaper Bild. Even Pratt’s Instagram has been in the news this month — literally just because he cropped Jennifer Lawrence out of some of their selfies.

It’s all very charming and engaging stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing. But if you’re not paying close attention it’s easy to miss that, yes, yeah, they are actually promoting a new movie, Passengers — that other space-bound sci-fi thriller (rom-com?) blockbuster of the season. Jimmy Kimmel literally had to drive a bus-wrapped ad onto set to hammer it home for his audience.

Jennifer Lawrence on Jimmy Kimmel for Passengers

The “Schoolyard Insults” clip is perhaps the most viral thing they’ve done together. I watched it Tuesday morning and by the time I finished the Passengers co-stars were already the top trending story on Facebook. By my watch they stayed there for almost a full 24 hours.

The segment is actually a somewhat regular thing on the BBC’s Scott Mills Daily. And while the premise sounds intriguing, when featuring anyone but Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, it’s actually not very good. It’s almost like these two can turn anything halfway shitty into an honest-to-goodness smash hit mega-success. More on this later.

Passengers itself has had an interesting path to production. Originally written in 2007, the film was stuck in development hell while the studio struggled to lock down its two stars. Initially, Keanu Reeves and Emily Blunt were slated to star. Rachel McAdams was rumoured at times to be in talks. Eventually Sony won the rights to the film and signed on Lawrence and Pratt. They began filming in September 2015. The first drabs of late night promos I could find came in December of that year. Here is a clip from Late Night, where Seth Meyers has Jennifer Lawrence talk about her sex scene in Passengers (real progressive, bro).

So, yes, Passengers has been floating around the ether for almost a decade now, which is fine and that happens. Movie stars doing press tours is also a normal part of the Hollywood cycle. No problem there. What is weird, though, is that I’m still unclear about what this movie actually is about. They’re on a ship in space and they wake up early? Sure.

I asked the rest of Sharp’s Web Squad for their tweet-length synopses and this is what they came up with:

Web Squad does Passengers

Space Bones. Cool.

Here is how Pratt, himself, described it in that interview with Bild a few weeks ago:

OK, um, Passengers, uh, OK, Jen Lawrence and I play two passengers of 5,000 that are on a starship bound for a new world. We’re on a journey that’s going to take a 120 years. A 120 year journey and we’re put in a state of hibernation, where they put us to sleep, kind of freeze us almost, and suspend our metabolic function. 30 years into this journey there’s a mysterious malfunction which results in both of us waking up and we now face 90 years of, left of this journey while we’re awake but everyone else is still asleep. And we are on this massive luxury star-liner or cruise starship cruise-liner. And… we’re alone and we’re trying to unravel the mystery of why we woke up, and in doing so we begin to fall for each other and that is, you know, interrupted by this foreboding and ominous inevitability that the ship is going down, so then we have to try and save the ship and also uncover the mystery behind why we woke up.

Ho-boy, umm, that is… That is not a movie. That is the worst elevator pitch in the history of elevator pitches. That is a rambling excuse to have two charming, good looking and well-liked movie stars fall in love on screen. It’s also not that different from ‘Space Bones,’ just saying.

As the reviews start to trickle in, Sony’s thinking is becoming ever-clearer. This is a bad movie for which they managed to cast two of the most charismatic actors imaginable, banking on their viral charm to market this film to profitability. There’s nothing wrong with that, beyond the obvious. If anything it’s kind of a smart take on movie marketing, a tacit admission that TV spots and highway billboards don’t work after all.

On Rotten Tomatoes right now Passengers is sitting at a ripe 18 per cent, yet still 99 per cent of users, nearly 25,000 people, say they want to see it. At this point the movie almost doesn’t matter. But maybe that’s the point.