If you look at the Hollywood studio system. producers are — by far — the dumbest people in that city. Producers will greenlight anything (a Cliffhanger reboot? Come on!). Actors, actresses and their agents are not always that smart when it comes to choosing roles, and there are plenty of untalented directors. But it’s the producers that put together a movie and, ultimately, pay for the cast. Most people below the producer level are guaranteed a paycheck whether the movie succeeds or not, so they don’t have too much to lose — especially if they are already established — by making a bad movie. So, while you can blame incompetent direction and bad actressin’ on those people, it’s ultimately the boneheaded producers that put everything in motion.
If producers are the dumbest people in Hollywood, you have to credit the people in marketing and distribution for, perhaps, being the smartest. They know the audience, and they have an almost magical ability to spin shit into gold. It’s marketing and distribution, after all, that made turds like The Fantastic Four and even Wolverine big hits. The marketing and distribution folks can crank out the right promotional campaigns and cut a nice trailer and compel huge audiences to see a movie they’re ultimately going to be disappointed in. They’re all bastards, but they’re wily bastards.
But what if the folks in marketing and distribution look at your movie and say, “There is nothing we can do with this; let’s release it straight to DVD and try to recoup a few dollars for the producer.” These people can sell Kate Hudson romantic comedies, so you know if they don’t have enough faith to release it into theaters that it’s a losing proposition. Can you name a single straight-to-DVD movie in recent memory that was good? Decent? I’m not sure they exist. And now that video stores are all but dead, you can’t even be lured into watching a movie because you see a familiar face on the DVD box cover, so I’m not even sure who sees these movies.
Passengers is the latest such release, a movie that might have drawn in a few people if they spotted a box cover with Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson. But with no promotion and a straight-to-DVD release, there seems to be no real financial incentive to releasing it at all. It’s certainly not going to develop a word-of-mouth following. It’s horrible. IT’s so slow-moving and inert, I’d be surprised if the few people who pick it up even manage to finish the whole thing.
Passengers is another really bad M. Night Shyamalan knock-off, which is saying something considering how bad the actual M. Night Shyamalan movies are these days. In fact, to even suggest that there’s a twist ending in Passengers more or less gives the movie away if you’ve been watching it more than 20 minutes. Anne Hathaway stars as a shrink hired by an airline to grief counsel the surviving members of a plane crash. During the course of her therapy sessions, she learns that her patients have differing accounts of the plane crash, which she seeks to investigate thinking that if she can nail down the actual events leading up to the crash, her patients can move on with their lives.
However, mysterious people keep popping up out of nowhere, and her patients keep disappearing on her. She also starts to fall in love with one of the patients played by Patrick Wilson, who is strangely undisturbed by the fact that he just survived a plane crash that killed most of the passengers. Meanwhile, Hathaway’s character obstinately refuses to catch on to what’s going on around her, and for good reason, as is later revealed.
Passengers is a set-up movie. Clearly, the twist ending — from Ronnie Christensen — was written first, and everything seems to work backwards from it. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to do between the plane crash that opens the movie and the ridiculous twist, so most of the movie mostly amounts to standing around and talking, and on developing the relationship between Hathaway and Wilson’s character in an excruciating length of time, all the moreso because the Sixth-Sensian twist is so obvious, you’re left restlessly awaiting the inevitable. The director, Rodrigo García, doesn’t do the narrative any favors by so obviously telegraphing the end, though he does get decent performances out of Hathaway and Wilson, as well as the solid supporting cast, including David Morse, Andre Braugher, Dianne Wiest, and Clea DuVall. It’s a well-performed movie, even if it is a slow-paced and dull one.
But the biggest problem with Passengers is not the direction, the acting, or even the script. The biggest problem is that it’s a movie that should’ve never been made in the first place. One of the ten producers on board should’ve been smart enough never to greenlight it in the first place. But that’s like asking a monkey not to fling its own poo. A producer sees a script and is so blown away by the fact that there are words on a page (“Look! Look! Words on a page!), I suspect they can’t help but pull out their wallets.