By Laurie Coker
Life — a condition that includes the capacity for growth, reproduction, function and change — and the subject of the latest sci-fi thriller, Life, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. Director Daniel Espinosa creates a visually stunning environment and an interesting enough creature, but Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s story lacks in fire power. Star power it has, but even the inclusion of Reynolds and Gyllenhaal can’t make up for the film’s lackluster limited thrill factor.
Six scientists travel aboard an international space station responsible for looking for life in soil samples snagged from Mars. Dr. Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is in charge of reanimating an organism found in and extracted from Red planet dirt. Using glucose as a base, he brings to life an entity originally unseen by the naked eye. School children and global citizens alike cheer the discovery and one chosen school picks its name – Calvin. At first, the tiny creature seems docile and awe-inspiring until that is, it stops being cute and rapidly becomes deadly.
In short order, Calvin picks off one crew member at a time and while, a few thrills and jolts happen here and there, the majority of the story plays out with an annoying predictable transparency. By wisely casting two top Hollywood leading men, filmmakers will draw in fans, but handsome fodder is still fodder when Calvin starts feeding. The microscopic being grows quickly and takes on the shape of a silvery-clear silicon, octopus-like entity with a penchant for slithering around and into its prey. If Espinosa does succeed in one area, it lies in the intriguing ways he uses zero gravity and the tight quarters to his benefit to conceive the, at times, cringe-worthy carnage.
For the most part, Life is just a clone of Alien, but the creature is not nearly as crazy wicked nor is the story quite as engaging, and Espinosa fails to add anything truly frightening or fresh. Even with today’s state-of-the-art special effects and an excellent national and international cast, Life is pretty lifeless. The cast seems bored too. Reynolds (Astronaut Rory Adams) limits his witty banter and Gyllenhaal- as the stations’ medical officer – goes through the motions without much enthusiasm. Their paychecks must be huge to warrant their presence in such a colossal waste of time. The only question is not who will die, but simply in which order. The film’s other four participants, Bakare, Rebecca Ferguson, Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada play their parts, but they, too, are just pretty dishes served up for Calvin’s pallet. Calvin can’t help it, though; he is just doing what he needs to do to survive and does it well.
I wanted the hour and forty-five minutes of my life back after sitting through Life. As the closing night film for SXSW 2017, it was only a shade or degree better than the festival’s opening film Song to Song. Thankfully, even with these bookend flops, SX had far more good or great films than duds. I am placing a C- in my grade book. Rather than spending full price at the theater for Life, rent Alien and see the better film.