Anne Hathaway, Andre Braugher

  3 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

"Passengers" is a fulfilling ride, but I'll warn you -- it's also a slow one. (Ironically, "Passengers" passed through theaters faster than the snack cart on a Jet Blue flight.) It's been pigeonholed into the suspense/thriller genre - but most of the action is psychological, although the nail-biting airline crash is retold in a series of Dragon Coaster rides that will leave you clutching the arm rests on your Barcalounger. "Passengers" is more the story of love transcending life, and it has a supernatural twist at the end that outshines anything M. Shalmar Night has concocted lately.

Therapist Claire Summers (elegant Anne Hathaway) is asked by her mentor Perry (benevolent Andre Braugher), to treat a group of survivors from a fiery plane crash. One of the passengers, Eric (bland, Patrick Wilson, purely on display as eye candy for the ladies), doesn't display the typical damaged emotions of a survivor. Unlike the others, he's euphoric, intent on turning his second chance at life into a series of suicidal stunts. The flashbacks Eric has been having of the crash are responsible his irrational behavior and have lead him to the realization of where he is and what's happened to him. His fears are supported by several appearances by a haunting, blue-eyed Husky:

Eric: That's my dog.
Claire: What?
Eric: That dog. He's buried in my back yard. He died when I was six.

When Claire's patients tell her conflicting stories about the crash she questions Arkin, an airline official (a deceitful David Morse), who emphatically blames pilot error. As Claire's patients begin to disappear one by one, she starts to believe the airline is hiding the cause of the crash and wants the witnesses wasted. The answers that Claire unearths about the crash shake her to her core and will take you on a twisting ride into Twilight Zone territory.
Although it sustains a watchable level of mystery, "Passengers" doesn't always travel well. Eric's early unabashed hitting on Claire borders on stalking and is awkwardly off-putting. A dish like Claire with not one, but two PhD's would have slapped a lawsuit on Eric, no matter how hunky he is. And while I willingly worship at Anne Hathaway's mascara table, what's up with those early owl-eyed expressions of wonderment and the slow motion eye movement? When Anne blinks, her eyes come down like a curtain dividing first class from coach -- slow and with plenty of hang time.

As Eric, Patrick Wilson has to balance his euphoria with his hidden wounded psyche. Wilson handles Eric's troubled side, but can't upgrade to champagne when he's asked to access his character's playful Miller Lite personality. He rides his motorcycle without a helmet, jumps into a freeze-your-butt-blue river, and plays chicken with a moving train. His hell bent on dying young thrill seeking will make you wonder why Claire would risk her rep to bed such a disturbed cretin. When Eric's upset, he's like Porky Pig on a caffeine drip, a cartoon character so jumpy you might want to say: "Tha...Tha...Tha.. That's all folks..."
...But hang in there for David Morse's appearances. Morse ("The Green Mile," "The Negotiator," "The Crossing Guard" - lotsa "The's" in his resume) is one of those studied character actors incapable of giving a bad performance. For most of the film you'll want to smack Morse's Arkin, who appears to be heartless, divisive, and uncaring. At the end of the film, when all the twists and turns connect, your heart might just go out to him. When an actor can turn his character inside out, that's a great performance.

Andre Braugher (Detective Frank Pembelton in "Homicide: Life on the Street") maintains his guise as Claire's mentor, and you probably won't realize the motives behind his actions until the plot's other worldly threads are neatly bound together. The same could be said of Diane Wiest's character if she wasn't so dippy, annoying, and too knowledgeable about so many personal tidbits in Claire's life that Claire hasn't shared with anyone. Diane is a waste. Clea DuVall's rebellious slacker, Shannon, falls into the adversary becomes ally role, but she's so nasty in the early going you won't care what happens to her, despite her sob story childhood. Sadly, wrinkled William B. Davis (the "X-Files'"malevolent "Cigarette Smoking Man") who plays Eric's grandfather, is little more than a two cameo apparition with no lines.

Get Your Ticket for the Extras...

"Passengers" has a full manifest of extras, including, deleted scenes, a "making of" documentary, and the special effects spotlight, "Analysis of the Plane Crash."

There's a trio of deleted scenes, "Claire Finds out the Truth," "Claire at Norman's House," and "Claire's Dream Sequence." Claire's conversation with Eric at his apartment kite dream sequence at her sister's house were likely dropped because they revealed too much of the plot with all the subtly of a kamikaze attack. The scene with Norman (one of the group of survivors Claire's treating) should have made the flight. It's a revealing moment of clarity for Norman that foreshadows Claire's awakening.

The documentary "Manifest and Making of Passengers" profiles the stars, producer Judd Payne writer Ronnie Christensen, and the film's M.V.P., production designer David Brisbin. It's clear from the actor's observations that they took crash courses on their character's behavior: "A lot of this movie is about there being more to life than just being safe," Hathaway says of Claire. Reflecting on Perry, Braugher adds, "Perry is the person who challenges Claire (and) guides her. He's a father figure."

Okay, I'll admit it. I love Anne Hathaway - probably for all the wrong reasons. She was a heterosexual haven in "Brokeback Mountain" and a breath of bitchy, self-destructive wit in "Rachel Getting Married." She's well on her way to eclipsing other famous acting Anne's, including Brancroft, Francis, and Baxter. When she does, "Passengers" may disappear from her manifest like Amelia Earhart over the Pacific, so now's the time get your boarding pass. "Passengers" is an econo class thriller with first class performances by Hathaway, Morse and Braugher that makes it worth the price of a ticket. Fasten your seat belt. 



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