Highbrow lowbrow

The challenges of spotting space bacteria without a microscope.

The challenges of spotting space bacteria without a microscope.

Rated 3.0

Daniel Espinosa’s slick, dunderheaded, space-bacteria-go-berserk outer-space actioner Life arrives in theaters just in time to continue one of the new cinematic rites of spring. It has become an annual spring ritual for Hollywood studios to release a dopey sci-fi movie disguised with a pseudorespectable, art-installation-worthy title, one meant to distract from the deeply stupid, pathologically unscientific, occasionally entertaining schlock simmering underneath.

Oblivion, Transcendence, Jupiter Ascending, the Divergent turd-ilogy, and John Carter even lost his of Mars in a vain attempt at respectability. And now Life, a film that, as previously noted, could be more accurately and less pretentiously titled Space Bacteria Go Berserk. But that title wouldn’t be worthy of the long narrative overture, the name-brand international cast or of Jon Ekstrand’s score, which is bwaaamp-ingly insistent of the film’s significance.

Of course, an eye-rolling title and an afterthought release date aren’t the only things familiar about Life—the entire film feels cobbled together from the loose ends of better films. Life is a sci-fi slasher movie in the vein of Alien and its infinite knockoffs, but with touches of Kubrick-ian pondering, Soderbergh-ian sleek solemnity and the aforementioned Nolan-esque bwaaamp-portance (as well as unfortunate strain of Shyamalan twistmongering).

Set entirely aboard an international space station orbiting around the earth, Life opens with an extended pre-title sequence in which the astronaut crew discovers a new life form floating through the void. (Spoiler alert: homicidal space bacteria.) They bring the life form, nicknamed Calvin, on board for study, but the seemingly harmless substance quickly reveals a fierce survival instinct, as well as a lethal intelligence. The surprisingly persistent and diabolical Calvin grows at a rapid pace, eventually escaping the laboratory and threatening the entire crew, and possibly the entire world.

Although ostensibly an ensemble piece, the above-the-line cast includes Rebecca Ferguson, exuding all of the steely competence but little of the movie star spark that she displayed in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation; Jake Gyllenhaal, clenched and withdrawn as though all too aware he’s too good for this shit; and Ryan Reynolds, still snark-quipping lowest common denominator pop culture references &#;agrave; la Deadpool. The six-member crew is filled out with Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya and Hiroyuki Sanada, but they essentially serve as space bacteria bait.

For all of its chin-stroking pretension, Life is almost endearingly dim-witted, frequently pausing for monosyllabic ruminations on life itself, even as it turns CGI space bacteria into a traditional horror movie antagonist. Considering the Z-movie premise, the film looks shockingly good (Nocturnal Animals cinematographer Seamus McGarvey deserves considerable credit), and ultimately I was more entertained by the low-rent crud that Life is than by the pedantic Interstellar hogwash that it wishes it was.