‘Stowaway’ brings an old-fashioned problem to the latest mission to Mars

“Stowaway” wasn’t shot during the Covid pandemic, but with a cast of four in a confined, near-claustrophobic setting, this character study easily could have been. More an examination of human nature than a thriller, the space-faring movie deals with weighty issues but doesn’t possess much pizzazz or gravity, making Netflix the logical home for its launch.

Thanks to NASA’s latest triumph there’s additional excitement surrounding the romance of space travel in general and Mars in particular, but with its languid pacing, “Stowaway” doesn’t rise to the occasion.

The plot itself is as simple as the age-old question of people on a boat or deserted island, without enough resources to sustain them all. Faced with that grim option, what would you do?

In this case, there’s no jumping overboard, since the crew of three (Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick and Daniel Dae Kim) is on a manned mission to Mars, when they discover an engineer (Shamier Anderson) who was knocked cold and has inadvertently come along for the ride.

The true villain, meanwhile, is oxygen — or rather, the lack thereof. That forces the mission commander (Collette) to have a serious talk with her two companions, saying she needs them to be “mentally prepared for what’s gonna happen.”

Kendrick’s medical researcher proves an idealist, while Kim’s biologist is more pragmatic. But once the moral dilemma emerges, not a whole lot happens for a too-long stretch, despite solid performances from the cast, as their characters reel under the psychic toll of their situation.

“Stowaway’s” spare, realistic version of space travel brings to mind a number of recent examples, including “Gravity,” “The Martian” and “Ad Astra.” Still, two recent Netflix productions might be more pertinent, George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky” and the Mars-bound series “Away,” given the service’s strategy of adding on options to existing genres and subgenres.

The film marks the second from the writing team of Joe Penna (who also directed) and Ryan Morrison, following the survival adventure “Arctic.” If the themes are much the same, as “Alien” proved so long ago, nothing quite matches space in terms of unforgiving environments where failure — or escape — isn’t an option.

The beauty of being Netflix, by contrast, is that the service churns out so much content, failure actually is an option. And while “Stowaway” doesn’t entirely land in that bucket, you won’t miss much by waiting to catch the next shuttle.

“Stowaway” premieres April 22 on Netflix.

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