Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: THE LAZARUS EFFECT (2015) [Paul's Take]

A team of young scientists discover a serum that, when injected into the brain, can bring someone back from the dead.  Someone should get a Nobel for that alone.  But then, when they do bring someone back they discover evidence of an afterlife and hell.  These are pretty huge discoveries.  Can you imagine the cover of Science or Nature?   “Hell is Real: A Peer-Reviewed Study.”   So you would think that these scientists would be instant superstars.

But not in the world of The Lazarus Effect.  Instead, they instantly lose the rights to their research and a big pharma corporation which might as well be called Umbrella takes all their work and leaves them with nothing.  It’s a little bit strange how Umbrella, or whatever they’re called, doesn’t want to hire these golden geese.  Let’s look a little bit into their qualifications:

(1)  They’re geniuses.  Bringing people back to life is like, not easy.  And yet these four are able to do it in three years in a basement with some jacked-up equipment that looks like a flexible desk lamp from OfficeMax.  You would think then that they would be MAD, as in insane.  Yet. . .

(2)  They are witty and articulate.  There is zero awkwardness about these scientists.  No social anxiety and not even a whiff of vengeful malice or jealous rages for wrongs suffered in the past. 

(3)  They are young and attractive.  It could happen.  I’m not saying that there aren’t labs out there entirely populated with super hot, super fun, well-adjusted super geniuses with excellent communication skills.  What I’m saying is that if you had a lab full of them, you wouldn’t fire them just because they didn’t dot their Is while SOLVING THE MYSTERY OF DEATH.

But fired they get.  And so they decide to sneak into their lab one last time to bring a dog back to life on camera.  A stupid accident later and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) is dead.  There’s a little hand-wringing, but then they shoot her up with serum and bring her back to life.  But she isn’t the same.  Nope, now she has got psychic and telekinetic superpowers, which is like Nobel prize number three, and she’s also evil.  A big fight ensues in which the remaining scientists have to stop her (from what?  from killing them, I suppose, her motivations aren’t real clear) but they don’t have much of a chance because now she’s super smart, super witty, super attractive, AND super powered.  Plus her face is on fire, which can throw anyone off their game.

Meanwhile, there’s a subplot about science versus religion and a recurring dream sequence that involves dolls being set on fire.  Oh and there’s a quasi-love triangle, but because these scientists are millenial-nice, no one actually gives in to their forbidden desire.   They are just so darned goody-two-shoes!

So, instead of deep dramas of the heart, The Lazarus Effect spends a lot of time filming people looking at computer screens and spouting off scientistic jargon.   We know it’s made-up mumbo jumbo, the director knows it’s made-up mumbo jumbo, and the actors know it’s made-up mumbo jumbo, yet somehow it still becomes the centerpiece of every important conversation.  For example, consider this REAL dialog from the scene of their major breakthrough:

INT: LABORATORY.  The team of super hot super geniuses sits around the lab looking serious.

ZOE [pointing to some spinning garbage on a computer monitor]:  Something’s degrading a little bit by layer.  And then it all falls apart.

FRANK gives a look of solemn consternation.

NIKO:  Could be the defusion barrier.

[ZOE rubs her head, who let Niko into our super hot super genius outfit anyway?]

FRANK:  What’s the memory and voltage?
NIKO:  Minus sixteen, maybe less. [really?  just minus sixteen?  Didn't Frank ask for two readings?  Shouldn't there be a unit of measurement?  Niko seems to be blowing it.]

FRANK:  OK, so we just decrease the depolarization.

ZOE: [barely concealing her contempt] And that fries our ion channel.

CLAY: [coughing from his electric reefer]  NOT if you introduce a potassium-selective insulator to the serum and limit pulsations to about thirty milliseconds to give the PH in the oxygen the time to snap back. [pauses dramatically] Boom.

[ZOE just can't even]

[Everyone looks at each other in silence]
CLAY: What, do I have shit on my face?
FRANK: Um. I think that might work.

[FRANK gives CLAY a high five]

FRANK:  [Unintentionally patronizing] Clay, you’re all grown up! 

OTHERS:  All right!  Holy shit!  Look at this guy!

It's a heart-warming scene of the greatest scientific discovery of our time.  And thusly the human race overcame mortality.  But, respectfully, this whole conversation could be boiled down to:

INT: LABORATORY.  The team of super hot super geniuses is sitting around looking serious.

ZOE:  Science science meh something’s wrong science.

NIKO:  [hopefully] Maybe science?

ZOE:  Oh my God.  No Niko.  Because science science. 

FRANK:  What’s the science?

NIKO:  Minus sixteen.

FRANK:  Ok, then . . . science.

ZOE:  Ugh.  SCIENCE Frank. How many times do I have to tell you?

CLAY:  NOT if you science the sciency part of it with real science, not crap science.  [dramatic pause] Boom.

 FRANK:  Um.  Guys.  I think that might work.

EVERYONE cheers for science.

Yay, science!

Yet, despite this dedication to scientific realism, the end of The Lazarus Effect is a plot mess.  The resolution doesn’t make any sense within the loose “minus sixteen” rules of the narrative.  And worse yet, the film just isn’t that scary or even sexy.  The death scenes are tepid.  The rare opportunities for anything like sexuality are shut down faster than slow dancing in a parochial school.   This may ensure that the film gets that PG-13 rating, but it also means that there’s nothing to elicit teenage interest.  

The actors and actresses are fine and are probably the bulk of the film’s budget.  Olivia Wilde does an admirable job before her face catches on fire.  But it isn’t enough to resuscitate The Lazarus Effect, which remains dead no matter how much science is injected into the inert matter it calls a brain.

1.  Zoe is Catholic.  Frank is not.  Do you think this poses a bigger problem for their marriage than the fact that she’s sort of a zombie now?

JD: Well, I think the fact that she's sort of a zombie now is like the ultimate "I told you so!" She can just hold that over his head forever as the walking manifestation of the fact that the devil exists.

2.  There’s a scene where people are apparently trapped inside their burning apartment.  You can tell they want out because we see their hands clutching under the door jamb.  Why didn’t they use the doorknob?

JD: In keeping with the other plot developments in The Lazarus Effect, they were probably all in a kayak that had tipped over right by the door.

3.  This film is supposedly set in Berkeley, California.  We used to live in Berkeley, California.  On a scale of zero to not-really-Berkeley, how Berkeley was the setting?

JD: I can imagine a Berkeley-caller on NPR saying "My dog got potato chips off the top shelf. There's no way it could have done that, unless Nixon came back from the dead and told it to!" 

4.  The serum brings people back to life, but it also sort of dances when hit with an electrical charge.  To what other uses, medical or otherwise, could this serum be put?

JD: Liquids that react to magnetic charges are called Ferrofluids. And I just looked it up...they're used in experimental cancer treatments today! Good god, Paul. We've got to call someone! Warn them! Presumably not the fire department.

5.  One character is able to mysteriously enter into Zoe’s dreams.  Is she a dream warrior?

JD: Good question, Paul. It's the same desire to feel the fire that's comin' your way. I'm...standing in the night alone forever together, oh...

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