Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Life

Describe This Movie Using One Simpsons Quote:

Homer: "You heard me: They're alien replicons from beyond the moon!"

Brief Plot Synopsis: Believing the strangest things, loving the alien.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One and a half Spaceballs John Hurts out of five.

Tagline: "Be careful what you search for."

Better Tagline: "In space, anyone can steal your theme."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The "Mars Pilgrim" mission is about to bear long-awaited fruit, in the form of soil samples from the Red Planet winging their way back to the International Space Station for study, that is. The crew is understandably excited to discover the samples contain a single-celled organism that responds favorably to attempts to cultivate it. Said excitement, predictably, turns to terror when the organism (dubbed "Calvin" for reasons) exhibits decidedly aggressive tendencies and puts the entire crew, and a blissfully unaware Earth, in mortal danger.

"Critical" Analysis: For all the talk about its alleged “liberal” agenda, Hollywood sure seems to have a vested interest in keeping human beings from delving too deeply into the mysteries of outer space. Even before the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, American audiences were assured of the existence of bug-eyed aliens that movies told us were bent on either destroying the planet, enslaving mankind or absconding with our women.

It wasn’t until after man traveled to the moon that studios finally warned us that voyaging beyond our lifeless satellite would spell our eventual doom. One of the first of these movies, Alien, still ranks among the greatest sci-fi and/or horror films of all time. It’s therefore disappointing that, almost 40 years later, the concept has yet to be improved upon. Which brings us, regretfully, to Life.

Maybe it was wrong to get one’s hopes up for this. Granted, director David Espinoza showed some spark in the otherwise uneven Child 44, but aside from the admittedly impressive single-take pre-title sequence, little else stands out. Meanwhile screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick penned both Zombieland and Deadpool, both of which reimagined their respective genres to a certain degree. There's none of that creativity, and also none of the irreverence that marked those films, to be found here. Life plays out like everyone involved was filling boxes on a space horror bingo card.

Explosively fatal incubation? Yep. Alien escape through the ventilation system? Sure. Desperate plan to section off ship in order to isolate the creature while the [remaining] crew make their escape? Klaatu [bingo] nikto. Aside from the immediacy of the threat (the ISS is RIGHT ABOVE US, y’all), there’s little to differentiate this from Ridley Scott’s classic, especially considering it repeats the same fatal mistakes of the original (movie astronauts are apparently geniuses at everything except obeying quarantine protocols). There’s less tension in Life than in an episode of The Far Out Space Nuts.

“Calvin,” the alien, looks like a cross between Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and that World Cup octopus. Its extraterrestrial origin is also a convenient way to explain the wholly ridiculous manner in which it’s portrayed. Simultaneously all muscle, all brain and all energy source, it can therefore survive in the vacuum of space…except when it can’t (the astronauts decide to vent the station of oxygen in order to cripple it). And despite lying dormant for, one assumes, millennia on Mars, it can nonetheless immediately comprehend human-designed electronics and propulsion systems.

That Life even made it to the production stage feels like a failure of communication on every level. Ryan Reynolds (mission specialist Rory Adams) doubtless felt like doing a solid to his Deadpool buds, and Rebecca Ferguson (Dr. Miranda North) probably wanted to continue her MI: Rogue Nation/Florence Foster Jenkins hot hand, while Gyllenhaal (Dr. David Jordan) may have been looking for a genre win to right the ship after Demolition and Nocturnal Animals (it wasn't good, people). And so, after several rounds of "Well, I'll do it if *you* do it," Espinoza was also able to secure Hiroyuki Sanada (pilot Sho Kendo) and Ariyon Bakare (botanist Hugh Derry) as the DCMC (Doomed Crew Members of Color).

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a rehash of a space horror classic, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Life treats us to some impressive interstellar vistas and an occasional jolt, but a bigger budget and recognizable cast won't erase memories of its superior predecessor.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar