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“Life” is an A-list filled B-movie science fiction tale

There will always be films that exist as a way of paying tribute to a classic that’s come before it. In the next few days, a new one is hitting screens. On Friday, Life opens and it hopes to be a new version to an old hit. The cast here though is impeccable, led by the A-list team of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds. They’re two of the biggest and brightest stars in Hollywood. Working off of a script by the suddenly hot screenwriting duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who are fresh off of a Writers Guild of America nomination for Deadpool. This is what Reese and Wernick have been up to since, with Reynolds along for the ride as well.

The movie is a science fiction horror outing in the tradition of Alien. Here, we follow a team of a half dozen scientists working aboard the International Space Station. Their mission is one of discovery, centered on research about Mars. When a capsule from the Red Planet returns with evidence of a live single celled organism, there is mass excitement. Fear isn’t far off though, as they discover it’s a rapidly evolving life form that likely caused extinction of all life on Mars. If they don’t do anything, the same fate may be in the cards for the people of Earth. Daniel Espinosa directs a script from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The small cast of six here consists of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, and Hiroyuki Sanada. Cinematography is by Seamus McGarvey. If it sounds like there’s shades of Alien here, it’s hardly an accident.

There’s a great cast on display here, even if they’re not especially well utilized. You normally can’t go wrong with anything that stars Gyllenhaal. Reynolds has been really consistent of late, while Reese and Wernick are some of the most interesting writers in Hollywood. Here though, everything is just diluted. It gets the job done, genre wise, but it never feels especially creative. Perhaps with less of an A-list cast and a slightly more confident director than Espinosa this might have been more satisfying. Maybe it’s also due to Reese and Wernick being satirists and this being a straight sci-fi movie. Whatever the reason, it never quite comes together. I was left wanting a lot more than I got.

For those wondering, here’s how I would rank Gyllenhaal’s ten best performances so far:

10. Demolition
9. Jarhead
8. Donnie Darko
7. Brothers
6. Love and Other Drugs
5. Southpaw
4. End of Watch
3. Brokeback Mountain
2. Prisoners
1. Nightcrawler

Honorable Mentions: Enemy, The Good Girl, Nocturnal Animals, Source Code, and Zodiac

Here’s also how I would rank Reynolds’ ten best performances so far:

10. Smokin’ Aces
9. Definitely, Maybe
8. Chaos Theory
7. Woman in Gold
6. Waiting…
5. The Nines
4. Adventureland
3. Mississippi Grind
2. Buried
1. Deadpool

Honorable Mentions: Buying the Cow, Fireflies in the Garden, Life, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, and Paperman

Overall, this coming weekend audiences can check out a new sci-fi flick with horror trappings in Life. It’s very much a modern day Alien, in premise if not in execution. Fans of Gyllenhaal and/or Reynolds might be a bit disappointed that they don’t have too much to do, but they might also just like seeing them in an overt genre outing. It may not have done a whole heck of a lot for me, but your mileage may vary. Give it a shot and see what you think. Reviews, outside of my own, have been pretty positive, so you just might dig it. It very well could deliver the goods for you. Take a gander…

Be sure to check out Life, in theaters everywhere tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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