Clocking in at just 83 minutes, “The Lazarus Effect” has one of the shortest running times in recent years.
If only Olivia Wilde’s character in “Lazarus” had run into Scarlett Johansson’s character in last year’s equally abysmal “Lucy.” At least then we would could have seen what would happen when a woman who has tapped into the brain’s full capacity, giving her amazing but dangerous superpowers, runs into ANOTHER woman who has tapped into the brain’s full capacity, giving HER amazing but dangerous superpowers.
“The Lazarus Effect” is nothing but a cheap horror film cloaked in scientific mumbo-jumbo. The likable Mark Duplass is Frank, a brilliant, workaholic medical researcher leading a small team of scientists who have been working in a university laboratory for three years on a super-secret project to develop a serum that will enable doctors to resuscitate recently deceased patients long enough to find a cure or a spare heart or whatever it takes to “give them the second chance everyone deserves,” as Frank puts it.
In other words, Frank is…PLAYING GOD. Doesn’t he know what happens to scientists in the movies who think they can play God?!?!
*The plucky and sweet Zoe (Olivia Wilde), Frank’s fiancee.
*Niko (Donald Glover), who apparently had a fling with Zoe when they were in college and is still in love with her.
*Clay (Evan Peters), the obligatory video game-loving, rules-breaking, potato-chip munching genius.
*Eva (Sarah Bolger), a college student who has been assigned to video the experiments as the team gets closer to finding a serum that works.
The big breakthrough comes when the team is able to resuscitate a long-dead dog named Rocky. From the get-go, it’s clear Rocky ain’t the pup he used to be; he has no appetite, and he wavers between listlessness and Cujo-esque aggressiveness.
So what do Zoe and Frank do? They take Rocky home to keep an eye on him! That’s because in movies such as this, exceedingly intelligent scientists have to display all the intelligence and logic of a bikini-clad bimbo in a 1980s splatter film who hears a suspicious noise in the basement after the power goes out and goes downstairs, saying, “Who’s there? Come on, this isn’t funny any more!’”
“The Lazarus Effect” is filled with visual “gotcha” moments borrowed from dozens of other scary movies. (SPOILER ALERT for those of you who have seen, like, four scary movies in your whole life.) You know when someone looks under the bed and nothing is there, when he turns around, BOOM! Gotcha! You know a dream sequence is likely to involve a silent little girl standing at the end of a long corridor. You know lights will go out and elevators won’t work, and no matter how much noise and madness occurs in an enclosed area in the dead of night, nobody will ever hear anything and call the cops.
The poster and the advertising for “The Lazarus Effect” give the following away, so here goes. When Zoe is electrocuted and conventional methods to revive her fail, Frank reaches for the magic serum, even though they’ve all seen what it did to poor Rocky the dog. Suffice to say when Zoe is brought back to life, it takes about five minutes for everyone to realize their mistake.
And then they go back to doing stupid things and isolating themselves so they’re vulnerable.
From that point forward, “The Lazarus Effect” plays like a throwaway horror flick. The talented cast does what they can with the underdeveloped characters they’ve been handed, and there’s some decent cinematography and a few nifty special effects. We end on a note leaving things open for a sequel, and that’s some mighty optimistic thinking on the part of the filmmakers.