For everyone eager to return to life in all its infinite pleasures after a pandemic, "Voyagers" is bound to touch a nerve.
This psychological thriller, set in space and entering theaters this week, is all about what happens to our heads and hearts after we emerge from a lockdown.
Sadly, the usually astute writer-director Neil Burger ("The Illusionist," "Limitless," "The Upside") botches his provocative premise: What if 30 test-tube babies who never see sunshine or the outside world are sent on a space mission to colonize a new planet since Earth has been infected and climate-changed into near oblivion.
The catch? The mission will take 86 years, which means the colonizing will have be done by the kids' children and grandchildren since the originals are around 10 at takeoff. Don't look here for deep-sleep, sci-fi clichés where everyone wakes up daisy-fresh and youthful after nearly a century of cryogenic hibernation. Every year takes its toll on these space babies.
At least the kids are bred for smarts. An early lab scene shows an egg being fertilized as a voice says, "poet laureate meet MIT genius." Even so, these prodigies need adult supervision. They get it in Richard, a simpatico scientist played by Colin Farrell, who accepts he's on a one-way trip as the ultimate father figure.
So far so intriguing. Except for a prologue and epilogue, "Voyagers" focuses on these guinea pigs when they're 24 and ready to raise their own test-tube babies. Hey, aren't their hormones raging? They would be were it not for "The Blue," a pacifier they think is a vitamin supplement. But it's really suppressing emotions such as love, hate, anger, fear and that old devil sex drive.
When the kids learn they've been duped, all hackneyed hell breaks loose and the film comes apart at the seams. The plot pits noble Christopher (Tye Sheridan) against hothead Zac (Fionn Whitehead) for control of the ship and the affections of medical officer Sela (Lily-Rose Depp -- Johnny's daughter). That leaves three fine, young actors struggling with roles the script forgot to develop.
And what of the other voyagers? They barely register, running around in black T-shirts looking hot and unbothered. That is until they stop taking "The Blue," then they smolder and seethe. There's no same-sex attraction among the ethnically diverse crew even when they wrestle (yes, there's a gym on board). I guess gender fluidity was not in the Voyagers PG-13 program.
Burger falls back on achingly familiar violence to spark his film into life. Zac terrifies his shipmates by claiming there's an alien on board. And when a cache of weapons are discovered, Zac and his newly formed stormtroopers, now hungry for power and fascistic dominance, threaten Christopher and Sela, who represent civilization in a battle against savagery.
Yes, folks, "Voyagers" thinks it's "The Lord of the Flies" in space, with none of the urgency and political relevance of William Golding's landmark 1954 novel. What's left is a paint-by-numbers outline for a film that never makes sense of its borrowed convictions or any sense at all.