This "Alien" lite saga offers just enough shocks to make you forget Ripley ... for a moment.
In space, no one can hear you say, “C’mon, you can’t be that stupid!”
“Life,” the cinematic methadone until Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” hits theaters, delivers scares that rival that epic franchise.
And then there’s the rest of the movie, filled with hackneyed dialogue and contrived scenarios to bring us back down to earth.
Call it a gallant try. The “Alien” template hasn’t been equaled since Scott’s 1979 masterpiece first stunned audiences. The fact that “Life” occasionally comes close is enough to recommend it.
A group of astronauts on the international space station corral a Mars soil sample from a research drone. That’s not the exciting part.
The sample features an alien life form. Sure, it’s a single cell, but it’s alive! The discovery excites the crew as well as folks back on earth. That’s just one of several original elements grafted onto a shopworn sci-fi premise.
That single cell grows, and grows, once scientist Dr. Hugh Derry (Arioyan Bakare) gives it a dose of glucose. Suddenly, this alien life form is big enough to be seen.
That’s when the trouble begins.
“Life” features a strong cast including Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds playing …Ryan Reynolds.
Really. It’s like his Twitter persona sprang to life.
That’s not a problem. Every group of sober astronaut types needs a cutup. Who better than Reynolds to do the honors?
FAST FACT: When “Life” director Daniel Espinosa’s “Easy Money” became a cause celebre, his phone starting ringing off the proverbial hook. Only he assumed they were prank calls at first and started cursing out the callers.
The film’s first half is terrific. Director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) delivers a space station where the workers toil in a zero gravity environment. It’s captured elegantly, giving the later chase sequences as well as more mundane sequences a visual snap.
The creature’s “birth” is equally memorable. Hey, this “Alien” clone can bring original chills.
The creature, dubbed Calvin in another inspired touch, isn’t like anything we’ve seen before. It’s also not remotely frightening.
That’s a problem.
So are the moments required to put the station’s crew in jeopardy. We’re told how bright this six-person team is, and then they act in such a ridiculous fashion to put their lives in danger.
Let’s not forget the screenplay, credited to the “Deadpool” duo of Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. The early film banter is effective, if hardly revelatory. It’s when the creature takes over that things go south.
“I hate it.”
“We gotta kill it.”
It makes you realize just what a wonder “Alien” truly was. That film had it all – perfect atmosphere, credible dialogue, a creeping sense of the unknown and a conspiracy that spike the second half.
“Life” is all about the visceral moments. And it delivers on the thrills suggested in the trailer. Once they fade, the film’s ordinary nature is revealed.
And let’s talk about that ending. The final moments are dispiriting, a wildly predictable shock that feels like a sop to our franchise fever. It’s the last reminder that anyone can clone the “Alien” DNA. Bringing it fully to “Life” is another matter.
HiT or Miss: Anyone expecting “Alien” level thrills from “Life” will come away disappointed. That doesn’t mean the sci-fi thriller won’t please genre loyalists.