Space set movies are almost as bad as time travel movies with the amount of suspension of disbelief you must accept for an enjoyable viewing. Space films based on real events like Philip Kaufman’s “The Right Stuff” (1983) or Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” (1995) are exceptions for obvious reasons. But for hits like Duncan Jones’ “Moon” (2009), Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” (2013), Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014), Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” (2015), and yes, even Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), you have to agree going in this is more fantasy than reality. Joe Penna’s new sci-fi drama “Stowaway” is inherently hard to grasp just based on its general plot.
We are introduced to a small spaceship crew of commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) as they are taking off for a two-year trip traveling to and exploring Mars. Only a day after lift-off, an unconscious stowaway, launch plan engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) is discovered and neither he nor the crew can figure out how he got there. While trying to accommodate their unexpected passenger, things quickly go from bad to worse with issues like lack of oxygen and radiation leakage.
Right away it’s hard for me to believe literally no one in this universe would notice a whole human body hidden near the back of a spaceship before departing. Not just by the three astronauts on board, but the whole team back on Earth responsible for preparing the ship. Beyond this far-fetched bit, “Stowaway” is very bleak and slowly paced with only 10 minutes of action near the end. It’s not exciting like “The Martian” or “Gravity,” or suspenseful like “Interstellar.” Penna chooses a more eerily, isolated study of these four crew members trying to resolve their dangerous dilemmas as quickly as possible. The characters are okay as far as personalities go, but also not interesting enough to keep my attention for the two hour runtime.
There are a couple of highlights of “Stowaway,” though. After following up the Twilight flicks with an Oscar nomination in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” (2009), it was a little underwhelming when Kendrick chose or settled on goofy comedies and animated musicals like Jason Moore’s “Pitch Perfect” (2012) and Mike Mitchell’s “Trolls” (2016). So if anything, “Stowaway” reminds us that Kendrick has range in dramas and it’s nice to see her talent at the front. Toni Collette also sporting her natural Aussie accent in character was a nice addition as she’s usually a critical darling effecting many dialects.
“Stowaway”premiering straight to Netflix suddenly makes sense by the end of the film, and makes us wish Kendrick and Collette had stronger material to work with.