Reviewed by Tristan Sinns
Starring Paul Walker, Piper Perabo, Brooklynn Proulx, Bob Gunton
Directed by John Glenn
Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertaintment
Ben Garvey is a man sorely down on his luck. He had been recovering nicely from a bad run with the law many years prior; he has his freedom, a beautiful wife, a cute daughter, and a tolerable job. Trouble starts when the bigwigs at his employer get wind of his checkered criminal past, and Ben suddenly faces the grim reality of unemployment. Old habits die hard, and quick as a snitch in the brig, Ben is back with old family hoods trying to earn money the old fashioned way; by stealing it.
Things don’t go well with this new career choice, either. People die in a mixed up shoot out, and Ben’s tagged as the only criminal survivor. Being a hood caught during the commission of a crime that resulted in death, Ben is put on death row. A few years later, in the fine state of Texas, he gets a big warm shot of something unpleasant that should finally put him down into the forever after. That is, at least, until he wakes up; and then things get a little strange.
The Lazarus Project is a surreal bit of suspenseful mystery in which freshly executed Ben Garvey finds himself quite alive and in a strange mental facility. What happens there is the core of the film; as Ben tries to accept this new lifestyle, he also cannot help but question the strange facility that holds him. The resulting vibe feels very reminiscent of the mood set in Jacob’s Ladder, where there is the disturbing and creepy sensation that something is sincerely wrong. It surely is; though it doesn’t necessarily involve the same purgatory twist as that great classic.
The premise and thought behind the film is mildly interesting however, where the film mostly suffers is in a sleepy pace that makes the first two acts difficult to sit through. Ben isn’t only a man who’s in a lot of trouble; he’s a man who needs to learn to smile once in awhile. Yes, yes, I realize that it might be rough waking up from what you thought was your execution, and being separated from your wife, child, and freedom in the world, but does that mean you have to be such a human Quaalude? These initial acts could have used just a touch of gentle humor, or other human warmth, to breathe some life into Ben and the other characters. As they are, they are played so absolutely straight that it’s difficult to feel any attachment or sympathy at all for any of them.
And that sympathy factor is another mild problem. The Lazarus Project certainly strives to paint Ben as a sympathetic character, but here I have a problem: Ben is an idiot. If your parole is over, and you have a beautiful wife, a sweet daughter, and then have the misfortune to get dumped from your job, the last thing you want to do is barrel back into crime. He doesn’t even try for unemployment; doesn’t even try to scrounge up a new job; doesn’t even make an effort to find any alternative besides moping for a day and then signing up for a some quick fix vault breaking. It’s hard to be sympathetic when someone behaves like a loser and then loses; you get what you get.
The last act does pick up a bit, and eventually the reality of the organization behind the strange mental facility is revealed. \While this portion of the film does have a lot more energy, it also doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Ben, once armed with the truth and a trusty axe, doesn’t have much problem bringing the place to its knees. For an organization which is involved in dealing with death row inmates and other incorrigibles, you’d think they’d have the common sense to have a few guns lying around. It’s silly, too neat, and the ending comes strolling in soon after with a nice neat little bow tied around it.
The DVD release of this film is nearly bare bones; included are two deleted scenes that didn’t quite make it into the final cut.
For all this grumbling, The Lazarus Project is technically a well put together film. It looks good, and is reasonably well acted. The surrealism it strives for has occasions of effective delivery. Its problems lie mainly within a sleepy pace in the first two acts, unsympathetic characters, and a plot that tends to crumble if you start poking it with a stick. I can’t help but poke. A rental, if you must.
2 1/2 out of 5
1 out of 5
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