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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Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking BuddiesReleased: July 25, 2013. Directed by: Joe Swanberg. Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick. Runtime: 90 min. 

Drinking Buddies is an experimental romantic drama/light comedy directed by Joe Swanberg that follows best buddy brewery workers Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who also like each other, but they both have other romantic interests. This is a film bathed in the idea that beer taints the ability to make good decisions, and you can’t always tell if what you’re doing is right or wrong. It’s like you’re looking at the situation through a glass of beer. This is what helps this film differentiate from other generic romantic drama/comedies, even though this still isn’t good. 

The material at hand just isn’t strong. I learn that the film is entirely improvised, and there wasn’t a script written, only a vague outline of plot and order in which events might take place. This is something that does allow the acting become more believable, but it’s a film that just largely fails. There are just so many other performers who are a lot better at getting laughs from their audience. The actors in this film only get an occasional chuckle. But the cast, also including Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, is quite charming. 

The banter between them all is sometimes pretty good. They all have a great chemistry, which saves the film a bit. even when it’s a bit awkward at times. But heck, Kendrick could have good chemistry with a wall. The chemistry between everyone is very sweet. It’s a realistic look at relationships and how picking the person you’ll spend your life with is a hard decision. It’s a look at the confusing times of relationships, too. 

Everything’s a bit frustrating because the viewer probably just wants the two couples to swap partners. The film is sometimes frustrating (this is mostly the third act) and sporadically funny. This finds a strange balance between mildly charming (because of the cast) and mildly boring. The characters are okay, just simplistic. This is just all pretty boring and often frustrating, and it’s just intensely forgettable – and it all feels pretty empty by the end of it all.

Score: 50/100

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013)

Incredible Burt WonderstoneThe Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Release Date: March 15, 2013

Director: Don Scardino

Stars: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde

Runtime: 100 min

Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) was that one kid who always got picked on growing up. Then he received the Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) magic kit for his birthday and… well, nothing changed with the bullying aspect. Though, he gained inspiration and a lifelong friend out of it, the person who will be soon be known as Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). Burt wants to become a magician and that’s just what he does.

Skip ahead to when they’ve been a headlining act in Vegas for ten years. A new street performer, Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), comes on the scene and, in retrospect, makes Burt and Anton’s show feel extremely stale, especially because they’ve been doing the same old shit for the past ten years. The only thing that sometimes changes is the pretty assistant that helps them. In order to become popular again, Burt and Anton must learn to settle their differences and Burt must discover again what made him fall in love with magic in the first place.

The plot is really all about learning to adjust and be a more flexible person, something that Burt really needs to learn. It’s successful on that meaningful level. The audience can feel for the characters because all of us would like to see Burt and Anton be successful again and settle their differences, but the point of this isn’t to be meaningful. At all. It’s essentially a buddy comedy of meeting half-way, and Burt and Anton’s climb back to the top.

There aren’t too many characters, and they’re all developed in a mostly general way. Burt is just a selfish sex-fiendish magician who should learn to become more selfless, Anton is Burt’s magic partner who puts up with his nonsense, Jane (Olivia Wilde) is a former assistant of Burt and Anton who’s an aspiring magician herself; Rance is a magic veteran who Burt finds a friend in; Doug (James Gandolfini) is the traditional Las Vegas self-centered hotel owner; and Steve Gray is the ridiculous Criss Angel-esque street performer, who even has a show called Brain Rapist.

Everyone is good in their roles but, as expected, Jim Carrey is the real scene-stealer. He gets some of the biggest laughs, and does some of the nastiest gags. He’s playing a bit of a loony bird, and that’s what he does best. This just goes to show that Carrey can be much better than Carell when they’re in the same film, and I’d pick Bruce Almighty over Evan Almighty almost any day.

The movie is just a really silly way to show how far these actors would go for a laugh. They do cool magic tricks, silly stunts, hit-and-miss gags (most hit), and dress up in funky costumes and wigs. It’s somewhat quotable, too, but the hilarious stunts are the most memorable. Even when the film isn’t that funny, the movie tries, and that’s easy to respect. The only part that is easy to hate is really the beginning, because of two extremely annoying kids – Mason Cook (though, he might still be hated because the only other flick he’d be most associated with is Spy Kids: All the Time in the World) and Luke Vanek – thankfully, the characters grow up fairly quickly, and they’re the thing I would just like to forget completely.

Alas, a fair amount of the material won’t stick in people’s memories. Most could remember the best laughs come December, but the rest of the feature will feel a lot like a disappearing act from one’s memory.

In a nutshell: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t as magical as it might seem to promise, but it’s fairly satisfying and it offers a funny experience with a great premise and a silly story. It knows it’s silly, so it embraces it and takes it for a ride. While a fair deal of it isn’t extremely memorable, the solid performers make me want to give a recommendation. There’s nothing incredible that makes it worth the watch in theaters, but I’d recommend at least giving it a chance when it comes out on home media.

73/100