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30 Mar 2017

Passable 'Life': This Jake Gyllenhaal Sci-Fi/Horror Flick Delivers the Goods—but Is Brought Down by Serious Flaws

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Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in Life. Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in Life.

Life, the new sci-fi/horror film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, is an inconsistent but overall sturdy genre pic that looks great and ultimately delivers the goods, despite a few slow patches—and a couple of remarkably dumb moments.

Credit director Daniel Espinosa for setting a grim tone and sticking with it through the very end. Too many big-budget films wimp out with their vision; Life does not.

Gyllenhaal and Reynolds play astronauts pulling a long haul on the International Space Station. Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan is actually about to break the record for consecutive days in space, and generally prefers life among the stars to life back on our miserable planet.

The crew is awaiting a space capsule containing samples from Mars, and these samples will lead to an amazing discovery: life beyond our planet. Ship scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a cell, wakes it up and marvels at its ability to grow at a rapid pace. He eventually finds himself also marveling at the little guy’s ability to grab on to his glove and mulch the hand within it.

We quickly learn that life on Mars was probably a total shit show, because this nasty glob (a distant cousin of Steve McQueen’s The Blob) kills everything in its path. The expedition goes from a triumphant discovery to ultra-protective mode in a matter of seconds—because if this thing gets to Earth, the Blue Planet will become lifeless virtually overnight.

The movie hums along nicely for a while as the organism picks off crewmembers in rather grisly fashion. Some of those death scenes will impress those of you who like your movie deaths yucky; Life does good things with weightlessness and blood-splattering. The momentum gets interrupted by one genuinely dumb death scene that makes no sense, and a few talky scenes that go on a little too long. While these scenes don’t derail the film, they do take it down a couple of notches. Without these legitimate flaws, Espinosa was on his way to a very good sci-fi offering instead of a passably good one.

Gyllenhaal, playing what is essentially the male lead, is his usual reliable self, giving his character a few quirks to make him original. Reynolds gives the movie a few laughs, and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation) is good as the ship’s voice of reason.

While the film borrows from other genre standbys like Alien and Event Horizon, the central monster has plenty of standout, original qualities, and its method of killing people from the inside is terrifying. There were definitely enough original moments to distinguish the film as more than an Alien rip-off. (I’ve seen a few complaints branding the film as such.)

The movie gets high marks for its technical achievements, including some nice camerawork and solid editing. The musical score gets a little sleepy at times, and a bit distracting at others. It’s not bad, but when you are noticing the score too much during dialogue scenes, something is a little off.

If you are thinking this is Deadpool in Space, don’t go. Reynolds, although very good in the film, has a supporting role. This is Gyllenhaal’s film, so if you are looking for Donnie Darko in Space or Jarhead in Space, you should be OK.

The movie leaves itself open to a sequel, but it’s doubtful that will happen: Life is not making the big bucks, and the setup would call for a film with an enormous budget.

Life is entertaining, but it probably won’t stick around in your mind for long.

Life is playing at theaters across the valley.

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