What we have here is junky Alien clone disguised as, well, something better. But there’s no life in Life, just leftovers, and a set-up comes pretty close to being a parody of the 1979 Ridley Scott classic. We’re squeezed into a claustrophobic , $200 billion international space station, which is charged with care of a probe that has returned from Mars with soil samples. And what do you know, when you put one of those samples in a petri dish, something emerges. And it’s alive! At first, the one-cell organism looks like a floating plant tendril, so sweet it gets a nickname: Calvin. Then it expands into a giant calamari ready to suck the life out of everyone on the six-person crew on the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission.
Watch as two of Hollywood’s gleaming-est stars get top billing in what are basically supporting roles. That’s Jake Gyllenhaal as PTSS space medic David Jordan – he’s done land duty in Syria and likes it better up here above the fray – and Ryan Reynolds as mission specialist Rory Adams, who cracks wise like Deadpool minus the mask (love the shoutout to Re-Animator, by the way). Gyllenhaal’s saucer eyes radiate compassion and the Reynolds peepers shine with mischief. So it’s bad luck that both actors are saddled with a script devoid of intelligent you-know-what – a shock, since the wordsmiths are Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who energized both Deadpool and Zombieland.
The other actors have even less to chew on. Rebecca Ferguson has a commanding role as Miranda North, who’s in charge of disease control and prevention but mostly just nags about firewalls and protocols. And Olga Dihovichnaya as Russian cosmonaut Ekaterina Golovkina is mostly acting with her accent. Hiroyuki Sanada as crewman Sho Murakami is stuck with a cornball subplot about his wife giving birth back on earth. Things begin more promisingly for Ariyon Bakare as Hugh Derry, the paraplegic scientist who feels liberated in zero-gravity where everyone floats equally. But it’s Hugh who makes the stupid mistake (the movie is littered with them) of touching Calvin with a gloved hand. That sucker can do damage. For a while, it’s fun watching him wreck havoc.
There’s no point in spoiling the few genuine shocks the film has. The point is, there is not a single actor in Life who manages to fill in and humanize the blank space where a character should be. Lucky for them, they die out faster than the cast of Game of Thrones. Blame Swedish-born director Daniel Espinosa, whose previous Hollywood work in Safe House and Child 44 was nothing to get excited about in the first place. He has no talent for laying out the geography of the space station, so we don’t know where anyone is at any given minute – which is hell on a movie that depends on the audience knowing exactly that. The story is further hobbled by a surprise ending that falls flatter than the one in Passengers. Let’s hope that Ridley Scott follows his own blueprint better in the upcoming Alien: Covenant. The dull and derivative Life is no competition. It’s DOA.