Movie Review: “Flatliners” shows little sign of life

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Spoiler alert. There is absolutely no reason — NONE — for casting Kiefer Sutherland in the remake of “Flatliners” if you’re not going to have him reprise his character from the first film.

He’s a totally new character, the head resident, the adult in the room at the Boston teaching hospital where this new crew of residents flirting with death. And the only reason to have him there, longish hair gone wholly grey, walking with a cane, is the lecture he’s honor bound to give this new quintet of risk-taking whippersnappers “flatlining” for science and an edge on their fellow med students, about “tempting fate” and “Youth is wasted on the young,” and “I KNOW what you’re doing, because…”

I can’t even remember if his character survived the 1990 film, but if he didn’t, why cast him at all?

Aside from that, this rebooted “Flatliners” starring five fresh and exceedingly pretty faces testing, pressuring and reviving each other after stopping each other’s hearts, isn’t half bad. It’s more of a straight spook-fest, a scary movie about the demons deep within our brains that our final moments of brain activity might bring to the fore.

A few hair-raising moments, here and there. A poignant scene or two. And there’s Diego Luna, swaggering in as the older student, the ex-paramedic voice of common sense, arguing against these “experiments” devised by the haunted star student, Courtney.

Ellen Page plays Courtney, who is introduced as she is cell-phone-distracted into the accident that killed her kid sister. Nine years later, she’s a promising doctor-in-training who interrogates any patient whose heart stops.

She wants to know “if you felt anything, you saw anything?”

She’s got to know. So she lures overwhelmed student Sophia (girl-next-door Kiersey Clemons) and on-the-make trust-fund playa Jamie (James Norton) into helping her kill herself.

Because they’re capable of bringing her back. Almost. Only the abrupt arrival of Ray (Luna) saves the day. And he’s followed by hyper-competitive Marlo (Nina Dobrev).

So they’ve all got a secret, one they can’t share with their teachers. But Courtney comes out of this near-death experience a tad manic, with an explosive improvement in memory. Yeah, it turns her into the bestest doctor-in-training ever. The other kids want them a piece of that.

 

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Director Niels Arden Oplev (“Dead Man Down”) is more at home providing frights than building romance, empathy and motivation for the characters. Because as they, one-by-one, flatline, deep-seeded guilt comes to the fore. They experience a momentary afterlife where they’re confronted by those they’ve wronged.

That’s the downside. The upside is that they’re liberated from doubt, freed from foggy memories of their education, masters at diagnostics, healers on steroids.

“I’m JESUS,” Jamie crows. “Everyone I touch today I’m going to HEAL.”

If, that is, he makes it through the day.

The scary stuff is strictly standard issue frights — spectral visitors, nightmares mixed in with the heavenly visions of flying, or motorcycling through scenic Boston. Guilt, mixed with a more supernatural take on what’s going on than the first movie offered, is what this “Flatliners” is about. And that’s about it. Jokes don’t really land, characters don’t connect. The big romantic allure of the first film, which explained why the characters were willing to risk death, is missing.

As I said, it all adds up to “not half-bad,” with Page managing the emotional high point and Clemons and Norton delivering the near-laughs and Luna the sober man-of-science common sense.

Tricky thing about half-bad, though. That means, at its best, it’s only half good.

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MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references

Cast: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, Kiersey Clemons, James Norton, Kiefer Sutherland

Credits:Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, script by Ben Ripley, based on a Peter Filardi story and earlier screenplay. A Sony/Columbia release.

Running time: 1:50

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