What is it that inspires some movies about space travel to be so solemn and joyless?

"Voyagers" is in the mode of "Solaris," "Moon" and "Passengers," as opposed to, say, "Star Wars." The human interactions are as sterile and blank as the pristinely white walls and clutter-free rooms of the spacecraft in which the movie is set. The characters — other than Colin Farrell, they're all about 20 — are on an 86-year trip to a planet that can support human life, albeit not their human lives. The idea is that their grandchildren, born en route, will be the ones to establish civilization in the new world.

The "twins in space" physics problem always makes my head hurt, so I'll leave the specifics of aging, etc., to the experts. What's important is not how the characters age, but whether they can speak every one of their lines in a monotone that makes them sound like robots in a Wes Anderson movie. Director/writer Neil Burger has asked his youthful cast to perfect a level of non-expression that makes a sentiment such as "The world is ending" as emotionally supercharged as "This pasta is slightly overcooked."

Burger is probably going for an intense contrast, since things do get heated in the final half-hour, but the first 70 minutes of "Voyagers" are so devoid of humor, passion and spontaneity, it's difficult to engage with the characters. It's not just that there are no jokes; it doesn't seem like these people — "bred" specifically for the mission so they won't miss concepts such as "family" or "love" — even know what a joke is.

The characterizations are vague enough for the movie to be interpreted as an allegory, possibly about toxic masculinity or fascism or, given how beautiful and fit everyone is, body shaming.

Farrell is the father figure, passing on his wisdom to dozens of model-like youths while knowing he won't live long enough to see the results. His charges — the two main ones are played by Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp — flourish under his tutelage, until they don't. That's when "Voyagers" begins to speculate about whether violence and resentment are so innate in human nature that they can't be bred out of us.

There are no laser battles or space chase scenes in "Voyagers"; the enemy is within, so everyone glowers a lot. To spice things up, Burger introduces the possibility of an alien intruder, as well as a romantic triangle, but not with much conviction. (It doesn't help that the performers always seem to be enacting behavior written for actors a decade older.)

But, outer space and breeding-the-perfect-futurepeople trappings aside, "Voyagers" is mostly interested in how mortal frailties turn a carefully planned attempt at utopia into the same old dystopia.

In other words, human beings are messed up and — even in a galaxy far, far away — that is why we can't have nice things.

Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367


⋆⋆ out of four stars Rating: PG-13 for violence and sexuality. Theater: Wide release.