By Bill Wine

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — So how much life is there in Life?

Plenty, even though it’s an unapologetic knockoff, but one that’s intensely suspenseful enough to scare us silly. The classic science fiction horror thriller, Alien, is the template here, which suggests that if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.

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But imitating another movie isn’t such a bad idea if you can virtually replicate it as well as this one does.
And if Alien is about as terrifying as a movie can get, Life comes remarkably close to that mark.

(3½ stars out of 4)

This movie is scary.

A six-member crew of scientists and astronauts on an international space station performs the successful capture of a space probe returning from Mars with a sample inside.

They’re ordered to retrieve and study the sample, which could lead to an astonishing and exciting discovery, certainly one of the most important in human history: the first evidence that there is extraterrestrial life out there.

But as the crew members begin to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences because of the imposing strength, shocking intelligence, and rapid growth of the hostile life form.

They are, then, trapped aboard the space station with this instantly evolving organism and realize that they must figure out a way to kill it if they hope to survive.

See what I mean? The producers of Alien just called: they want their premise back.

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Yep, here’s a movie that might as well have used the catchphrase, “In space, no one can hear you plagiarize.”
Or, to put it another way, would John Hurt have been able to stomach this clone?

That is to say: there’s homage, there’s cribbing, and then there’s highway robbery. And Life may be doing all three.
And yet…and yet. There is certainly something to be said for skilled execution, with or without originality.

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal lead the efficiently game cast, and they’re joined by Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanata, Olga Dihovichinaya, and Ariyon Bakare.

Spanish director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44), summoning astonishingly convincing special effects, works from a screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who collaborated on Deadpool and Zombieland. But whereas those two films had strong comedic spines, Life is intensely sober. And the better for it.

Here’s a genre piece that goes about its business with maximum efficiency and, as familiar as the setup is, somehow manages to avoid predictability as a well.

Will wonders never cease.

So we’ll petrify 3-1/2 stars out of 4. Some movies know exactly what they are, don’t try to be anything more than a generic treasure, and deliver the goods in high style. Like the song says, that’s Life.

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