A muted, eerie but ultimately soothing blend of elements from “The Sixth Sense” and TV’s “Lost,” plus a healthy dollop of psychobabble, “Passengers” follows a handful of plane-crash survivors still coming to terms with their experience. Cruising somewhere between therapy drama and paranoid thriller, this middlebrow tone poem aims for ambiguity but often veers into soporific, suspending answers (and often, viewer interest) en route to an ending that explains all. Still, with its top-flight cast, pic deserved better than a limited release sans press screenings. Theatrical journey will be short, but the Sony item might earn its ancillary wings.
Working from someone else’s script (by first-timer Ronnie Christensen) for a change, Colombian-born helmer Rodrigo Garcia makes a considerable departure from such acclaimed Cheever-esque ensemblers as “Nine Lives” and “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her.” Those multithreaded yarns managed to transcend gimmickry, but the same can’t be said of “Passengers”; paradoxically, its existential story conceit hinges on the element of surprise, yet will be sadly familiar to viewers of countless other films and TV shows.
Nevertheless, pic is far from an unpleasant sit, and would make a perfectly decent in-flight movie if not for its opening and recurring footage of a commercial airliner being ripped asunder. Indeed, it beggars belief that five passengers manage to survive the deadly crash. Claire (Anne Hathaway), a psychologist, is assigned by her superior (Andre Braugher) to help them process their shellshock.
But one of the five, Eric (Patrick Wilson), is less traumatized than giddy, even euphoric. With a new lease on life, he refuses to attend Claire’s group counseling sessions but playfully invites her over for house visits, and the easy chemistry between these two very attractive actors pushes their flirtation in the tantalizing direction of professional misconduct.
But all is not as it appears: Attendance at Claire’s sessions is steadily dwindling; a mysterious man keeps showing up outside her window; and a bizarrely multitasking airport employee (David Morse) pops up every so often to stir Claire’s suspicions about what really happened on board that fateful flight. Curiously absent are any glimpses or mentions of the other passengers and their grieving loved ones.
“Passengers” turns out to be an existential puzzle, the kind whose climactic revelations are meant to inspire viewers to rewatch the movie through newly enlightened eyes and realize that what they mistook for flaws in the filmmaking — in this case, druggy pacing and a vaguely otherworldly quality to some of the dialogue — were in fact clues embedded in an ingenious narrative framework. But Garcia and Christensen show little interest in providing the thrills, jolts and intellectual rigor that usually accompany such plot-driven exercises; trading instead in fuzzy-headed mysticism and consoling reassurances, they seem more intent on subjecting auds to a good, therapeutic wallow.
There’s nothing especially wrong with that, and the always appealing Hathaway dutifully applies her talents to this worthy cause (Claire could probably have a productive sit-down with the substance-abusing basket-case Hathaway plays in the current “Rachel Getting Married”). Wilson reasserts his credentials as a charming yet thoroughly un-edgy leading man, and Dianne Wiest smiles her way through as Claire’s overly obliging neighbor.
Tech package is smooth, with moody, wintry lensing of British Columbia locations and a somewhat ostentatiously spiritual score by Ed Shearmur.