Judging by the non-stop string of failures by Ph.D.s under pressure in “Life, ” NASA’s employment standards must be slipping. The ratio of horror movie stupidity to real-life common sense in “Life” is lower than usual, but that still doesn’t prevent the six-person crew of the International Space Station from being consistently outwitted by a space squid for the better part of 90 minutes.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and this science fiction-horror thriller does possess a few decent twists; however, it’s hamstrung by a lack of identity and creative spark. Screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool), and director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House,” “Child 44”), seem content to riff heavily on the likes of “Gravity” and the “Alien” franchise while bringing few ideas of their own to the table.
The fictional crew of the ISS – mission specialist Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), paraplegic biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), mission commander Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada) – retrieve a probe carrying a soil sample from the surface of Mars.
The sample contains proof of extraterrestrial life, which not only turns out to be viable, but also fast-growing and quite aggressive. Before you can say ‘for God’s sake, stop poking at it!’, the creature, dubbed Calvin, is running amok on the station, quick-evolving and feeding on astronauts.
Having an ostensibly smarter group of victims battle an implacable foe in the claustrophobic confines of a delicate spacecraft is a set-up rife with possibility, but in this instance it goes nowhere fast. There are a couple of tense sequences early on, but the suspense quickly succumbs to predictability.
The characters are defined thinly; Jordan is a jaded curmudgeon who prefers the isolation of space, Adams is (of course) the smart-ass hotshot, and Kendo has a newborn daughter waiting for him back home (so you know he’s doomed). Even less is said about the female crew members. Only Derry is presented with any degree of depth.
It doesn’t help that “Alien: Covenant” is lurking on the horizon, overshadowing this decidedly B-grade monster flick as a reminder that this sort of thing has been done before and done better, and that two months isn’t really that long of a wait.