The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Released Feb. 27, 2015. Directed by David Gelb. Written by Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater. 1hr., 23 min.

With rushed execution, The Lazarus Effect has a premise taken from Biblical origin that intrigues but an execution and narrative that bores.

Zoe, a sometimes creepy Olivia Wilde, and Frank, Mark Duplass, are the head of an experimental scientific team that originally specialized in studying neurological patterns in coma patients. It quickly turned into an experiment where they revive deceased animals just to perfect a formula that could be a revolutionary innovation for healthcare professionals that could give them more time to bring someone back to life.

It’s an underground formula where they’re experimenting using a government-approved grant, but they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be. It heightens aggression and make animals display bizarre behaviour when they’ve been brought back. In an extreme situation, they bring Zoe back to life out of Frank’s undying love for her.

In its winning horror premise, it’s great on paper. In its execution, it truly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Zoe’s brought back and she starts displaying even stranger behavior than the dogs that have been brought back. She has heightened senses and powers that could be cool enough for a super hero flick – but things quickly go awry.

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

There are ideas of what might lie after death and that’s an interesting aspect of the film, but where Zoe was is only vaguely touched on. The screenplay is predictable in its occurrences and way too rushed for its own good. There are some scenes that are almost good, but way too many that will just leave you scratching your head.

The character with the strongest characterization is the central anti-hero, Zoe. She has these horrible memories that constantly haunt her, which adds something remotely interesting to the narrative.

Something silly in the film is the utilization of an opera song that is meant to instil fear and anxiety in viewers, but just ends up being quite laughable. The film just isn’t scary in the traditional sense, but is alright at building tension. It’s just far too quickly forgettable for its strong cast also including Donald Glover and Evan Peters, playing far too basic characters. Sarah Bolger’s performance is mildly enjoyable, though, and Olivia Wilde a bit too unconvincing.

One good thing that came out of the project is the fact that it at least isn’t filmed in found footage. There is a documenter present, character Eva portrayed by Sarah Bolger, and since the premise did seem promising enough; it was able to get enough funding to warrant a strong production quality. For a demonic flick, it’s one of the more creative premises to come out of the sub-genre, but the god-awful execution can’t save it.

1 star

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Run All Night (2015)

Released March 13, 2015. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman. Written by Brad Ingelsby. 1hr., 54 min.

Vengeance and a father’s love pair up on a long December night

Featuring a visually pleasing style and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Run All Night will please anyone looking for a concise narrative that happens over one long night.

Fate pits best friends Jimmy Conlon, portrayed by Liam Neeson, and Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, against each other in a deadly situation when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to protect his own kin. Maguire’s son Danny, the up-and-coming supporting star Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), kills a pair of Albanians in a local gang after he tries to bring drugs to the family business. The entire situation is a product of Danny’s insolence and need for independence – to handle a problem on his own, like his father suggested. Surely, this is not what he meant.

His father is a legitimate business man, also known as a New York mafia boss, who won’t bring drugs back to his city after he had a bad experience amongst his workers once before. Michael, portrayed by RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman, comes into this when he drove the to-be-murdered Albanians to Danny’s home. He is a limousine driver and family man, with a seriously estranged relationship with his own father – a former hitman for Shawn Maguire.

Now Jimmy is retired, but his nightmares of those he has killed have not rested. He’s drunk and tattered, playing the flawed hero he seems to play at least once a year nowadays, notably in 2014’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Hey, if it works, it works. It feels even more familiar here, however, since this has such a similar style to Non-Stop, which director Jaume Collet-Serra also helmed. It has a different framing – New York circa Christmas time, but it’s about as much of a Christmas flick as Die Hard. There’s also a prominent NHL game in play throughout – the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils, perhaps to display the city’s culture. It later works cleverly into the screenplay, which is written by Brad Ingelsby, writer of 2013’s Out of the Furnace. Similar settings, scenes and tone make this more familiar.

Run All Night isn’t memorable because of its originality, but because of its emotionally interesting narrative. Jimmy will largely do anything to protect Michael and that shows a father’s love for his son, even if they don’t know each other well. However, Michael’s bitterness towards his father becomes so sporadically extreme, that the character is sometimes too unlikable.

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

During the quicker action scenes, the editing becomes hectic. That’s one of the weaker technical aspects of the film; but the redeeming cinematography is smooth.  The action scenes work because they are fun and have personality. But there are scenes that don’t work – like uninspired bouts of ruthlessness just so it can show that these characters can be brutal. Or a bathroom brawl for lack of realism, since they make a lot of noise – and how does no one hear the commotion in the commode in a crowded subway station?

A fun antagonist includes a hitman portrayed the Oscar-winning Common. He’s called to be robotic and calculated as Andrew Price, but ends up being the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of assassins, particularly when he’s called to put on his nice guy act, and then he becomes monstrous. Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Detective Harding, an antagonizing, prejudiced officer who has been gunning for Jimmy “Gravedigger” Conlon for years. His assumptions of Jimmy and his son are sometimes downright mean.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does bring his best action film yet to the table. He expertly deals with themes of regrets in life through Conlon, largely signified through a repeated line with former bestie Maguire, “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together.” It’s fascinating that a family member’s death because of intense circumstances can cause him to be so vengeful, but the way that writer Ingelsby doesn’t delve into it well enough causes him to be more basic than he could have been. Collet-Serra handles the emotions well and builds great tension throughout.

3 stars

Get Hard (2015)

Released: March 27, 2015. Directed by Etan Cohen. Starring Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie. Runtime: 1hr, 40 min.

Get Hard might be a rip-off of other films, but it isn’t flaccid.

The Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart comedy borrows elements from 1983’s Trading Places, where the two primary characters come from jarringly different worlds. Ferrell’s James

King is a Harvard-educated millionaire who just made partner at his place of work.

It’s not crystal-clear what he actually does for a living, but all you have to know is that early on the film, he is arrested for multiple counts of fraud and embezzlement and is sentenced to ten years in prison.

An intensely biased judge gives him the harshest possible sentence at San Quentin prison, because white collar citizens like King have been getting away with light pleas for far too long. This is probably the film’s most frustrating and uninspired occurrence.

Anyway, King meets Kevin Hart’s Darnell Lewis and assumes he has went to prison because of his race, perceived lack of education and social standing. He seeks his help in training him in his expertise in surviving prison. Darnell only agrees because of his need for money to buy a new home to get his family out of a dangerous Californian neighborhood.

And of course, he really hasn’t been to prison and has to base his “How to survive prison” tips on black stereotypes and vague advice from his cousin Russell, portrayed by T.I., who has connections in prison with his gang called the Crenshaw Kings.

Darnell means well and he’s just trying to make some money, but these two characters are really in the same boat in how little they know about prison – King is just a bit more ignorant about the subject of prison, and general sensitivity, than Lewis.

I think that’s why the dynamic works – that neither of them know what they’re doing – and allows it to be a bit different than the 2007 Rob Schneider vehicle, Big Stan. Basically, this is a blatant, stereotypical rip-off of that lacklustre film, but it builds on it with a stronger cast and a more interesting story.

Kevin Hart gets a few of the film’s biggest laughs and there about five hilarious scenes. The film’s at its best when it simulates a yard scene where gangs fight over basic ownership of King. It is also quite funny when King tries to get in touch with his hip hop side and adopts the persona of Mayo.

Ferrell is good, if sporadically awkward. He was better in 2010’s The Other Guys as his soft Allen Gamble, at one point stepping into the role of a pimp called Gator. The character in that film is funnier and better developed, though Ferrell does have his moments as a character reviled by many, especially his at-home helpers.

King’s bank accounts are frozen, and the only reason they stay behind to still work for him is to get back at him for the general mistreatment. King does deserve some empathy for his entire life being turned upside down, and losing an incredibly sexy fiancé portrayed by Community’s Alison Brie, whose shallowness is portrayed by her being more upset by a ruined party than her fiancé being arrested.

To be fair, that party did have John Mayer in a mildly amusing cameo, where he goes on live television to sing about the monstrous King potentially getting sexually assaulted in San Quentin. If that doesn’t convince you to at least rent it, I don’t think anything will.

2.5 stars