Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Lazarus Effect

(Looks at options for Amazon link, sees that this is also the name of a Frank Herbert novel, shakes head)

The fact that eFilmCritic doesn't give out assignments means that nobody really has to review a given new release, but I do feel a weird urge to fill in holes. Still, when I saw that Peter had reviewed it for and Brett does his horror reviews on his own site, which left it to me. I could have said no, but MoviePass meant it was effectively free, Mark Duplass had done an amusing Q&A a few days before (and also worked with producer Jason Blum on the terrific Creep), Olivia Wilde did a funny annotation of an Esquire profile, and, hey, there's other good folks in the cast. Like Sarah Bolger, who will always be "one of the kids from In America" to me, no matter what else she does or how attractive an adult she's grown into.

It's not good. At all. It's so forgettable that it sucks other bits of memory in - I think I read that it was directed by the guy who made Jiro Dreams of Sushi something like four times before the idea actually stuck in my head despite that being a pretty interesting and unusual diversion. The other folks in the theater were actually doing some critical dissection, wondering what the heck happened to the dog who just vanished midway through despite being pretty damn important.

I kind of hope that's the direct-to-video sequel they go for. There are two other obvious routes, but there is a part of me that would be tickled pink if this movie spawned a series of movies about an immortal dog who has seen hell and travels the countryside like a demonic Littlest Hobo, drawn to paranormal activity and dealing with it by being as good a dog as he can be with the strange voices in his head.

As an aside: Can anybody actually name a series that ran like what I describe in the first paragraph of the review (direct-to-video/VOD sequels that wound up with a strangely consistent creative team and a dedicated fanbase)? I feel like it's happened before, but the only things that leap to mind are a couple of Japanese series. I can think of a couple of times it has happened on television - that's how we wound up with more Stargate and Highlander than bears thinking of - but examples of the route I'd like The Lazarus Effect to go elude me.

Weird crowd, too. When I sat down just as previews started to run, there was only one other person in the theater, and while I opted for center-right-behind-the-railing (the first elevated seats above the wheelchair row), he was in almost the last row and so far to the side that he was actually behind the walkway in. I cannot fathom being the first person to arrive in a theater and choosing that seat. Similarly, a lot of folks who arrived during the trailers sat far enough back that they made shadows on the screen when they got up, which was relatively often. What the heck? Why go to a theater if you're going to sit far back enough to make the screen the apparent size of your TV, and why so restless? It was an 83-minute movie, for crying out loud; even with AMC's 20-minute trailer package, that's not a terribly long time to go without checking your phone or peeing (and if you know you can't last that long for the latter, find a seat where you're not interrupting someone else's movie, even if it's something crappy like this).

Ah, well. At least the stuff around this amused me more than the typical terrible horror movie.

The Lazarus Effect

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 March 2015 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

There's a thing that sometimes happens where a movie under-performs but the name apparently has just enough value that whoever winds up with the rights makes a direct-to-video sequel, or two, or more, with tiny budgets that maybe allow one person from low in the original's cast to return and probably doesn't bring the original writers and directors back. But, perhaps, they do get the same guy to a few of them, he or she goes off in a new direction, and they develop a small but hard-core fanbase that tells you the sequels are really great and just ignore the first one. The Lazarus Effect has great potential along those lines, and it's a shame about the movie itself.

It actually starts well enough; we're introduced to Frank (Mark Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde), a pair of engaged scientists working on a process that would allow for patients who have flatlined to be revived much later than was previously the case. Working with them are Niko (Donald Glover), a longtime friend with an obvious crush on Zoe, and Clay (Evan Peters), an obnoxious-but-allegedly-brilliant younger colleague. Eva (Sarah Bolger), a student at the university hosting the researchers, is documenting the process. Today, they've just had an animal test succeed, but the revived dog is acting strange - and they are almost immediately shut down and locked out of their lab. But if they can reproduce their work...

That may not sound particularly promising, but a good cast can make the movie go down fairly easy during the set-up part. Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde make for unconventional choices for their character types - Duplass plays his driven genius as more casual and amiable than is often the case, and Wilde brings an approachable sort of confidence to the character whose job is to undermine the certainty a bit. They work well as a pair, smart, funny, and mostly at ease, enough to give a little push to later events. Donald Glover does a fair job as the guy one the outskirts of that relationship, Evan Peters adds a bit of manic energy, and Sarah Bolger gives Ava a little more personality than just being the pretty girl that the rest explains things to. Ray Wise shows up as an oily corporate type and makes you hope that Ray Wise is in more than one scene.

Full review on EFC

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