Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Flatliners (2017)

(PG-13, Columbia Pictures, 109 mins., theatrical release date: Sept. 29, 2017)

Did you know that when you die, apparently your spirit leaves your body and swoops down the same CG cityscape as seen in the current HBO Feature Presentation bumper. That's all there is to learn from the 2017 revival of the previously-discussed Flatliners. I'm not fond of Joel Schumacher's 1990 brood feast in an everlasting way, but at least it once played on HBO with a minute-long introduction (in SPACE!) which earns its nostalgia. There are no specs rosy enough to make the new model seem appealing now let alone in 2044.

Schumacher had been a fickle, flippant filmmaker throughout the entire 1980s (following the "hip" ensemble dramedy St. Elmo's Fire with the "hip" ensemble horromedy The Lost Boys), whereas Niels Arden Oplev at least has the original 2009 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to his credit. But it hasn't been a good year for Tomas (Let the Right One In) Alfredson let alone Oplev, on top of everything else you can think of going wrong in 2017. Screenwriter Ben Ripley adapts Peter Filardi's original story, but he's not at Source Code efficiency this time. Despite his user friendly surname, Ripley is slumming it in a dimwitted regression to the DTV half of the Species saga he began with.

Full disclosure: I needed the fast-forward button on my DVD player to keep me from death by boredom. Flatliners runs a grueling two hours thanks to protracted, derivative scenes of creeping terror but still manages graceless transitions and a dearth of investment. Oprev and Ripley ignored the notion that flatlining creates the kind of rush which one character suggests should be bottled and sold as a "club drug." Theirs is instead a sleepy-time depressant you swig once the party's over.

Kiefer Sutherland re-emerges from Schumacher's gothic amber playing not the older version of ringleader Nelson Wright, but instead an inconsequential cameo as the movie's Dr. House, "Woolfson." It's Ellen Page as Courtney Holmes who assumes Nelson's obsession with the afterlife nine years after drowning her kid sister Tessa in a texting-while-driving wreckage. Courtney strong-arms second year womanizer Jamie (James Norton) and the fearfully studious Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) into assisting her two-minute demise. The Oliver Platt-like outsider is Diego Luna's morally assertive yet mischievous Ray, and our Julia Roberts manqué is the woeful Nina Dobrev as Marlo.

Working in the basement of their hospital in order to take advantage of a functioning MRI machine, they competitively stop their hearts by lowering their body temperature via a cooling jacket and receiving a fatal hit from the defibrillator. Courtney claims that her astral projection was actually "a little sexual," but good luck sensing this based on the screensaver visuals Oprev preserves. The carnality is strictly TV-PG, as Sophia has a vigorous if ridiculous tryst with Jamie and moony Ray confesses his love to Marlo. Save for Ray, the resurrected med students tap into repressed mental faculties whether it's book knowledge or bread recipes or, in the 25-year-old Sophia's case, standing up to her mother, who demands she Win At All Costs.

Sure enough, they also dredge up their guiltiest secrets in the form of vengeful apparitions. Courtney is haunted by the Samara-style ghost of her sibling. Player Jamie, instead of being shamed by all of his conquests a la Billy Baldwin, is pestered by one long-lost lover he deserted upon impregnating. And in a racial inverse of Kevin Bacon's sin, it's black Sophia who humiliated a smarter schoolmate by hacking and dissembling her naked photos. This entails the same quest for forgiveness as before, but only after one of them is flatlined permanently by his/her demon.

The urgency of their predicament is euthanized by the deadening ways in which they go about killing themselves and then celebrate their complicated resuscitations with slow-mo hedonism before their interminable torment by Paranormal Activity spooks. Flatliners has no soul to lose. Without visuals worthy of Jan de Bont's breathtaking cinematography from the original, the numbing cycle instead comes on like probable outtakes from Platinum Dunes' A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Schumacher, for all his flaws, was at least wittily portentous and filmed the original's crises of conscience with variety and elegance. Oprev's Flatliners has no identity of its own away from the most crushingly familiar of "quiet...quiet...BANG!" exploitation.

Even more so than the original, there is a airbrushed vacancy to the characters' games of one-upsmanship and their ability to function as promising healers. Though Courtney and Jamie come out of the experience with amazing powers of diagnosing rare diseases and administering life-saving drugs, I didn't feel the overriding sense of real, irresponsible danger in these egotistic tests. There's no mortality to their madness, and whatever invigoration they get from playing chicken with death doesn't seem worth the possibility of brain damage or psychological instability or terminal malpractice.

Flatliners flits from one half-assed conceptual triviality to another, freed from gravity just like its cast during those out-of-body experiences. Not since posing as Kitty Pryde for disgraced hack Brett Ratner has Ellen Page been so egregiously squandered. Diego Luna (has it already been 16 years since Y Tu Mamá También?) and Kiersey Clemons (a comedic charmer as seen in Neighbors 2) have too proven themselves overqualified for this tedium, which is more than can be said for small screen ciphers Nina Dobrev and James Norton. The work Oplev and Ripley have done could've been accomplished by any slumming work-for-hires toiling under the Screen Gems banner. There's nothing exquisitely tricky or emotional to make their Flatliners come alive, just 110 minutes which transition into rigor mortis early on and never lets up. It's the kind of stiff which you don't so much as review as perform an autopsy on. And with so many people trying to look on the bright side of a downer year, the sooner we bag and tag Flatliners '17, the better.

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