Stowaway ★★★

STOWAWAY is a lovely looking astronaut adventure despite offering an absolutely implausible foundation-level story contention. This is the story of a NASA-type organization (albeit a private, cost-cutting outfit) launching a 3-man, 2-year mission to Mars. The flimsy central plot point is that hours after escaping Earth’s gravity, the crew find an unconscious technician in the ceiling. I don’t like to be the “as if” complainer, but STOWAWAY is not a flighty, fanciful sci-fi lark. It takes its physics quite seriously, so how in the name of centripetal-force-sim-gravity does a Mars-bound science team leave an entire engineer in the electric panel above a drop ceiling? To me, it's a shaky enough concept to warrant some explanation--explanation that never really comes.

The accidental passenger, though, presents an interesting conundrum. I immediately wondered about the resource-drain with the extra body on board. Although the concern in my headspace was the shortage of deyhdrated spaghetti, the captain eventually realizes that O2 will be the bigger supply/demand concern--not baggies of powdered meat. The film treats the issue (and its solutions) largely at the surface, scholarly level. While they crew puts the stowaway/new crew member to work, they also desperately try to problem-solve this situation. It's a decent drama that unfolds. The issue, cinematically, is that the film never feels like much more than a textbook case study. Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, and Toni Collette make up the crew (Shamier Anderson is the extra oxygen-consumer who forgot to disembark before launch). They’re all pretty good. The problem is the minimal level of connection between any of them. There is no reason to care about these astronauts on any type of character level. Everyone is good doling out their science lines, but any human relationship efforts are completely undercooked. For instance, Anderson's character keeps talking about his sister, but this raises more character questions than answers. The small-talk between Kendrick and Kim is shoddy and, dare I say, a little bit like awkward improv. Toni Collette is repeatedly on a phone call with Mission Control. However, for some reason, we never hear a voice from Earth. The characters hear ground-control in their earpieces, but the audience never hears the urgency, brainstorming, empathy, sympathy, or anything else from home. It's meant as an isolating tactic by the director, and to a certain point it's an interesting choice and works. However, it also knowingly withholds info from the audience and is a missed opportunity to flesh out some sort of human connection.

As a visually realistic space adventure, the film works well. The fantastic production design gives the camera a top-notch ISS knockoff to wander around. The major setpiece is a tense space walk scene. It's OK, but to be honest, like other elements in STOWAWAY, it's mishandled. The script, not really know what to do with its characters or its 'big moments' does the spectacle twice--in succession. The first time had all kinds of drama and spectacle, but the crew had to end it quickly. Moments later, it all has to happen again. It's a bit deflating, cinematically--sort of like going to get groceries, getting home, and realizing that have to go back because you forgot pick up the bread.

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