In Ridley Scott’s The Martian, Matt Damon plays a brilliant astronaut who gets stranded on Mars. With the aid of a robust sense of humor and scientific intellect along with NASA assistance, he makes it back to Earth.
The new sci-fi snoozer Stowaway finds four space travelers in a similar predicament who work through a life-or-death struggle in the most rote and matter-of-fact way possible. The special effects are believable enough and the process of how the astronauts deal with their stressful situation is likely accurate, but that doesn’t mean it makes for an engaging movie.
Watching the film is like reading an inventory list of dehydrated food supplies or an instruction manual for how to eat them. It’s the cinematic equivalent of the saltine cracker challenge.
The film opens on the faces of three crew members during the takeoff of a space shuttle owned by Hyperion, a sort of fictional SpaceX of the near future. The aim of their two-year, Mars-bound mission is to test food production on the red planet, spearheaded by tireless research from the ship’s biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). The rest of the trio, medic Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), round out a lean crew that grows too large when the latter finds an unconscious man behind a ceiling grate. He turns out to be a concussed launch support engineer who unwittingly became an accidental stowaway on a ship that only has resources to support three people and apparently not enough to abort the mission altogether.
In his directorial debut Arctic, director Joe Penna told a similar survival story to the one found in Stowaway but with even fewer people, revolving entirely around a stranded pilot played by Mads Mikkelsen. Taking place in the oppressive tundra of the Arctic Circle, the film has a convincing and menacing sense of environment that carries over to the unforgiving outer space surroundings of Penna’s sophomore effort.
Adapting from “The Cold Equations,” a sci-fi short story that has also served as the basis for a Twilight Zone episode of the same name, Penna and co-writer Ryan Morrison lay out the terms of the crew’s conundrum in fittingly unfeeling terms.
A creative decision becomes apparent early-on, one that dictates the story is told only from the perspective of these four voyagers. When Barnett communicates with a head technician at Hyperion, we only hear her side of the phone call and we don’t meet any other characters besides those four. This is in contrast to a space movie like The Martian, where we bounce between Mars and Earth and are introduced to supporting players to get a more complete picture. This withholding context should make the proceedings more tense, since we’re stuck on the ship with the crew, but the isolation only makes things painfully dull. The third act features an action setpiece of sorts but everything leading up to it is essentially hand-wringing devoid of the kind of moral ambiguity that could have made things interesting.
I’m not sure there’s a group of actors who could have given this lifeless tale what it needed, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Aside from some fleeting sparks of chemistry with her two male cohorts, the charming Anna Kendrick is sadly miscast in a role that squanders her spunky sense of humor. Daniel Dae Kim deserves a starring role with more meat on the bone than this, and Toni Collette, one of the best actresses around, is forced to push her melodramatic lines to their breaking point. Shamier Anderson might come across as the best of the quartet in his titular role but even his efforts fall short.
Overacted and underdirected, Stowaway is a Netflix movie that barely passes muster as a screensaver at which to occasionally glance behind your smartphone after a hard day’s work.
More New Movies Coming This Weekend
Opening in theaters and streaming on HBO Max is Mortal Kombat, a martial arts fantasy movie starring Lewis Tan and Jessica McNamee about an MMA fighter who recruits Earth’s greatest champions for a high-stakes tournament in another universe.
Also coming to theaters is Together Together, an indie comedy starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison about an introverted young woman who becomes a gestational surrogate for a single man in his 40s.
Also in theaters is The Asset, an action thriller starring Michael Keaton and Maggie Q about a pair of premiere assassins who team up to track down the killer of their mutual mentor.