The lost-at-sea survival tale “Adrift” is based on a true story, but it plays out like mediocre “Life of Pi” fan fiction that started with the premise “What if Pi were a young woman wearing short shorts and bikinis and the tiger in the boat was an older, hunky Brit?”
Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) is an immigration official’s worst nightmare. It’s 1983, and the 23-year-old American hops off a boat in Tahiti with no job, no plans and no final destination. She’d might as well be wearing a T-shirt with “FREE SPIRIT” written in bold, block letters.
She meets Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) when he sails his boat into the local marina. He’s a decade older, and they have nothing in common, but the two quickly fall in love — or at least something they tell each other is love. There’s precious little supporting evidence, and they exhibit zero chemistry. Tami and Richard feel less like actual characters than placeholders that were accidentally left in the script.
After a few months together, the couple bumps into Richard’s old friends, who have a family emergency in London and need someone to sail their 44-footer back to Tami’s native San Diego. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, we know from “Adrift’s” opening frames, which find Tami alone, underwater and wailing for Richard inside the crippled yacht. Besides, when was the last time you saw a movie where someone got on a boat and something good happened?
“Adrift” bounces back and forth between the aftermath of the powerful hurricane that ravaged the boat, including Richard’s gruesome injuries, and the couple’s courtship — such as it were. Somehow writers Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell, who received “story by” credits on “Moana,” and David Branson Smith (“Ingrid Goes West”), manage to elicit yawns from both tales.
Director Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”) delivers a too-brief scene of minor spectacle when the monstrous wave hits, sending Tami tumbling and crashing throughout the cabin.
While “Adrift” is intended to showcase her strength and resilience in an impossible situation, it mostly highlights the ways in which Tami is, if not the worst, at least worst-adjacent.
After Richard serenades her, a truly sweet moment during the early stages of their voyage, the ensuing conversation goes something like this:
Tami: “Hey, so how’d your mom die?”
Richard: “She hung herself. I was 8.”
When their post-hurricane rations begin dwindling, Richard, who can barely move, realizes they’ll starve unless they catch some fish. The vegetarian Tami initially refuses, saying she won’t make something suffer. After a few eventual attempts at spearfishing, she gives up, pouts and declares, “I can’t do it! It’s too hard!”
Apparently there are worse things than being stranded in the middle of the ocean — namely being stranded in the middle of the ocean with a 23-year-old.
Tami eventually proves useful when she’s tasked with navigating despite admittedly being terrible at math. Richard tells her she can do anything if she sets her mind to it, and Tami immediately responds with their exact location, how far they’ve drifted since they last made contact with anyone and calculates that they’ve left a 1,500-square-mile search perimeter.
Wow! If Richard survives this, he really needs to get into the motivational-speaking business.
“Adrift” and Woodley desperately want to be taken quite seriously, but the movie offers next to nothing that hasn’t been done before — and better — in films ranging from “All Is Lost” to “Unbroken” to, yes, “Life of Pi.”
The one relatively new thing “Adrift” brings to the screen is a stupefyingly wrongheaded plot development of the “Did that just? No, wait. Seriously? Seriously?!?!” variety that will leave you feeling significantly less intelligent than when you entered the theater.
It’s the sort of thing that’s sure to make you root for the ocean — assuming you weren’t already.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.