War of the Worm

'Life' is no 'Alien'

In space, no one can hear you scream, “For God’s sake, don’t coddle that damned face-hugging alien!”

Daniel Espinosa’s Life throws the sci-fi fanciers a few (human) bones. Xenobiologist Ariyon Bakare’s Hugh Derry croons over a little bugger brought to the International Space Station by the Pilgrim 7 Martian probe. Talking to it, petting it in its glove box and then goosing it with an electrical prod when the critter is trying to take a siesta, Derry is the most foolhardy scientist since doomed Manhattan Project physicist Louis Slotin. One gets a sense that Espinosa doesn’t have a real point of view about his lurking, pouncing Martian critter: a tapeworm-sized beast that ends up quite big after helping himself to the crew.

As for “Calvin,” as the ornery, tentacled beast is called, it honors that thing you always say at parties when you’ve run out of things to say about octopi: “If there were alien life, it might well look like this crafty cephalopod, so ingenious, so gifted at escape attempts.” Unfortunately, “Calvin” isn’t as good at calligraphy as those alien squid in Arrival.

Life doubles down on the zero-gravity swimming scenes that were part of the appeal of Gravity, with the cast (Olga Dihovichnaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds and Hiroyuki Sanada) clawing their way through the corridors as the thing chases them. But there are many “Now, we wait!” scenes in between the science-fiction declaratives of “We’re looking at the first incontrovertible proof of extraterrestrial life!” before humanity makes its last desperate stand with duct tape and flashlights.

Life is a movie you wish you could see for the second time first, so that everything that fails to make sense first time around, every amazingly stupid action the cast carries out, would be clarified. It’s unclear why this movie exists, beyond the reason of showing what a sucker’s game it is to try to top Alien.

‘Life’ is playing in wide release in the North Bay.