EmptyOpened: Friday, Oct. 24 (Columbia Pictures)
Watching "Passengers," a viewer can't help but ask: What genre is this movie?
What starts out as a promising psychological drama begins to morph into a suspense thriller with side feints into detective story, shrink-patient romance and paranoid chiller with hints of the supernatural. The film is a misfire, which you feel more acutely given the talents of those involved, including director Rodrigo Garcia ("Nine Lives," "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her") and rising star Anne Hathaway.
The film is a little too influenced by M. Night Shyamalan, which might be the wrong way to go given the reaction to his recent films. In any case, its young writer, Ronnie Christensen, hasn't developed characters convincing enough for any genre nor provided Garcia with a smooth narrative that can suggest a visual strategy. Instead, the genre confusion forces Garcia to push scenes somewhere between suspense and eeriness but with no real payoff in either area.
Hathaway plays a therapist called in by a mentor (Andre Braugher) to counsel five survivors of a plane crash. One (Patrick Wilson) refuses to join the group sessions yet uses her concern for him to aggressively pursue a romance with her. The other victims get shallow treatment in the script with the exception of Clea DuVall's nervous wreck with issues over her parents' early deaths.
As shadowy figures appear outside windows and on darkened street corners, and Hathaway's patients start to disappear, paranoia takes over. She suspects an ominous airline employee (David Morse) of stalking her patients and possibly even eliminating them to cover up the cause of the crash.
The problem here is that most viewers will know the FAA investigates crashes and no shadowy figure can really prevent the discovery of airline malfeasance. So this plot line is weak and unconvincing. The romance between the therapist and her handsome patient stumbles just as badly on the issue of credibility: She is too easily seduced for someone with two master's degrees and a Ph.D.
Then there are the viewer's own suspicions. Too many characters -- including Hathaway's unusually nosy neighbor (Dianne Wiest) -- seem to materialize out of thin air. If you suspect that all these story lines are red herrings of a sort, you won't be wrong. So when the final twist does arrive, annoyance rather than shock or surprise probably will be the majority reaction.
Cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo effectively uses the overcast weather, skyline and cityscape of Vancouver to convey a chilly sense of foreboding that suits just about all the movie's faux genres. David Brisbin's production design emphasizes glass windows and open spaces where a sense that someone is watching nicely prevails.
Production: TriStar Pictures and Mandate Pictures present a Persistent Entertainment/Intiuition production.
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, Andre Braugher, Clea Duvall, Dianne Wiest, David Morse, William B. Davis, Ryan Robbins.
Director: Rodrigo Garcia.
Screenwriter: Ronnie Christensen.
Producers: Keri Selig, Matthew Rhodes, Judd Payne, Julie Lynn.
Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane.
Director of photography: Igor Jadue-Lillo.
Production designer: David Brisbin.
Music: Ed Sheamur.
Costume designer: Katia Stano.
Editor: Thom Noble.
Rated PG-13, 93 minutes.