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Life

Year: 2017
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: Rhett Reese/Paul Wernick
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ryan Reynolds

Every time a movie comes out that shares a title with another movie I'm reminded of the kerfuffle that arose when Warner Bros made Harvey Weinstein change the name of The Butler to Lee Daniels' The Butler. Their reason at the time was because they already had a movie called The Butler from the mid 1910s – obviously a barely-veiled smokescreen for a vendetta against Weinstein for some slight.

This movie shares a title with an Eddie Murphy/Martin Lawrence comedy from 1999 – considerably more recent than 1916 – and nobody complained.

But aside from the insipid and uninspiring title, is the movie any good? It's certainly the best possible version of a cross between Alien and Gravity it could possibly be.

Astronauts and scientists on the International Space Station retrieve a probe that's returned from collecting samples on Mars and are astonished to discover it contains a cellular life form.

Even more exciting, it starts to grow much faster than anything biological science has seen so far. Then it starts to exhibit self-direction, then intelligence, but of course by that time it's less exciting than it is horrific, because the creature appears to feed off human blood and tissue.

It sets off an extended chase sequence aboard the Nostromo – sorry... ISS – where the bloodthirsty alien tracks down and picks off crew members one by one, letting us see in classic depleted-numbers-sci-fi-horror fashion who's going to succumb and who's going to step up.

It sounds boring (and audiences agreed, not even returning the production budget – one theory I read about why was that everybody was waiting for Alien: Covenant, which they expected to be the same story told better), but it's not as bad as you fear.

Given the constraints of the genre and premise, it's perfectly fine at setting up characters and chills and executing chase sequences. The creature is a bit of a letdown, looking like a CGI cross between the Matrix squiddies and Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors. But all the actors gives it their all, including some accomplished dramatic performers like Gyllenhaal, the performances lifting it above the genre trappings somewhat.

The life and environment aboard a space station also seems realistic, a quality the movie shares with something like Gravity and Approaching the Unknown, and with the best possible story that's such a carbon copy of Alien and everything that came after, it's enjoyable if you're forgiving enough of the unoriginality.

Written, if you can believe it, by the two guys behind Deadpool (which might explain Ryan Reynolds' presence).

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