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‘Flatliners’ dead on arrival

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Hollywood’s current tendency toward remakes and reboots of preexisting properties isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, the right filmmaking team can take an older idea and breathe new life into it, creating something that both honors the source material and brings something uniquely its own to the table. The end result can be a really enjoyable movie.

Other times, a filmmaking team can completely miss whatever it was that made a property engaging in the first place and create something that is utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling value – entertainment or otherwise. That end result can be a truly terrible movie.

A movie like “Flatliners.”

This remake of the 1990 film of the same name falls flat in every conceivable way. The cast is disinterested and bland. The story is thin and boring. The aesthetic is visually dull. The pacing is leaden and the dialogue borders on the idiotic. It. Is. Bad.

Courtney (Ellen Page, “My Days of Mercy”) is a medical student haunted by the untimely accidental death of her sister years ago. She’s among the top performers in her class – one that consists of a remarkable collection of clichés. There’s the older, overly serious Ray (Diego Luna, “Rogue One”) and the womanizing trust fund kid Jamie (James Norton, TV’s “Grantchester”); the struggling mother-smothered Sophia (Kiersey Clemons, “The Only Living Boy in New York”) and the tryhard type-A Marlo (Nina Dobrev, TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”).

(That’s literally all you need to know about them, which is good, because that’s basically all the movie deems fit to tell you.)

Courtney has inexplicably gained access to a convenient secret underground auxiliary hospital (yes, really) and is using the equipment contained therein to engage in a series of experiments aimed at determining the truth about what happens when we die. How? By stopping her heart and then being revived.

She spends about 30 seconds convincing her apparently ethically flexible colleagues to help her with her nonsense experiment. She dies (or “flatlines”), has a bunch of crazy visions – including some related to her sister’s passing – and then comes back. Conveniently enough, she now has total recall and other magic brain powers.

Obviously, everyone else wants to try it, so they do. And everyone who flatlines sees different crazy visions and comes back with extensive brain vigor. Only it turns out that something has followed them back from crazy vision land. Something that starts haunting them even when they aren’t dead and puts them all in danger.

Whatever. It’s even more nonsensical than it sounds.

Look, the 1990 version of this movie wasn’t any less ludicrous. However, it did have a competent director in Joel Schumacher and an A-list cast – Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, William Baldwin and Kiefer Sutherland (who also appears in this new version). This new film has neither of those things.

“Flatliners” is a movie that simply shouldn’t be. It’s stunning; you’d think a film that misfires this spectacularly would have been put out of its misery long before actually reaching theaters. Instead, audiences are treated to a meandering two hours of nonsensical plot driven by extended stretches of expository emptiness and unlikeable cardboard cutouts passing for characters.

The percentage of runtime that could be accurately described as “nothing is happening” boggles the mind. The filmmakers – director Niels Arden Oplev and screenwriter Ben Ripley – seem to believe that the best way to build tension is to let every scene linger about twice as long as it needs to. The pace plods to an extent that almost feels like a challenge, as if they’re daring the audience to check their watches and shift in their seats.

Ellen Page is the closest thing to a star that this film has … and even she spends most of her time looking like she’d rather be somewhere else. But at least she has scraps of character development to which she can cling. The rest of the central cohort seems to be operating with little more than a single sentence of character synopsis, each of them hammering away at their single note with varying degrees of histrionics. No one ever has anything remotely resembling a legitimate motivation for their actions.

It can’t be stressed enough – the biggest sin committed by “Flatliners” is its complete and utter dullness. It’s the cinematic equivalent of drying paint. Even the very rare moments where the film tries to be high-minded feel stupid and contrived. If your movie is going to be this dumb, it should at least attempt to be entertaining. Alas, it is not to be.

In short, someone should have signed the “do not resuscitate” order. It would have been the merciful thing to do.

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