||If you’re going to try to copy “The Sixth Sense,” you’d better have a better script at your disposal than this one concocted by Ronnie Christensen. And if, like Rodrigo Garcia, you’re going to make it anyway, it’s probably not a good idea to include an appearance, however brief, by William B. Davis, the actor who played Cigarette-Smoking Man on “The X-Files.” You’re just reminding viewers how much better your models were.
“Passengers” is about Claire, a young psychologist still working on her doctorate but apparently employed by the government, who’s assigned to counsel a handful of survivors from a terrible airplane crash. They’re in various stages of denial, and one—Eric, a young man who comes on to her immediately—is strangely euphoric.
They also begin disappearing, at the same time that a strange man begins stalking Claire and an airline executive appears at inappropriate times, accusing Claire of attempting to lead her patients to say that the crash was caused by mechanical error. There are other peculiar occurrences. An overly solicitous neighbor smothers Claire with motherly attention; a wolfish dog shows up periodically; and Claire’s efforts to reconnect with her estranged sister are stymied.
Caught up in all the dark, mysterious goings-on is a strong cast. Up-and-coming Anne Hathaway plays Claire, though it’s frankly a part that doesn’t require much more than that she mope around in a mixture of bewilderment and vague fear for ninety minutes. No wonder she looks so morose. Patrick Wilson, the milquetoast husband of “Lakeview Terrace,” is Eric, and his utterly bland enthusiasm is right for the role, but it’s hardly charismatic. As the weirdly insistent airline guy, David Morse maintains a pained expression that could be the result of constipation as much as emotional torment. And Dianne Wiest plays the intrusive neighbor with a perpetually manic smile that’s intended to be enigmatic but seems more a sign of craziness. Andre Braugher coasts through the role of Claire’s boss with a bemused attitude that may have more to do with the script than the character.
None of them are helped by the deliberate, woozy, soft-grained mood built by Garcia, cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo and editor Thom Noble. They’re obviously aiming for a dreamlike, vaguely unsettling quality, but what they achieve is dreamlike only because it invites sleep. And Ed Shearmur would be well advised to lay off the xylophones in his scoring. That jangling is irritating (and can keep you awake).
But what ultimately causes “Passengers” to crash and burn is a New Agey ending that’s no more satisfying than, say, the close of “The Village.” You have to give it credit for trying to generate some shivers without resorting to gore and obvious shock effects. But when a picture asks you to puzzle through a chain of ambiguous clues to a surprise solution, you have a right to expect something better than watered-down Shyamalan. Maybe they should have called it “The Sixth Senseless.”