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Movie Review: 'The Lazarus Effect'

By Bill Wine

KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Lazarus: It's a name we associate with the Biblical account (in John 11) of Jesus miraculously bringing him back from the dead and throughout science and popular culture as a name that suggests the restoration of life.Would that there were more life to restore in The Lazarus Effect, a slapdash horror thriller that squanders a decent premise and gives up on itself by the third reel.

The Lazarus Effect is about a team of university medical researchers, graduate students led by an engaged couple, Frank (the first syllable, the last time I checked, of "Frankenstein") and Zoe, played respectively by Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde, and also including Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger, and Evan Peters.

(1½ stars out of 4)

Working on resurrection experiments, they've developed a way to bring newly deceased animals, the most recent an elderly blind dog, back to life using a serum to which they assign the code name "Lazarus."

Their ultimate goal is to use it on humans as a way of prolonging the period when it is safe to bring recently deceased people back from the dead and restoring their cognitive function.

They're certainly proud of their accomplishment and want to announce it to the world, but the college dean, angry about their unsanctioned experiment at this religious university – and accused by Frank of giving in to the demands and influence of Big Pharma -- abruptly shuts the God-playing scientists down, confiscating their equipment and taking possession of their research findings.

But the researchers refuse to let that stop them, especially because they want to progress to the crucial next step.

So they surreptitiously set up shop again.

And then, as if one cue, Zoe gets electrocuted during a laboratory accident and dies.

So, led by grief-stricken Frank, the colleagues apply their technique to Zoe and, sure enough, it does indeed bring her back.

But at what price?

Which is the question they ponder when Zoe starts exhibiting unusual and terrifying new abilities.

Director David Gelb -- whose previous feature film was the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi -- works from a screenplay by Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, originally titled Reawakening, that appears to explore the morality involved in doing something just because we can. But the narrative runs out of gas as soon as the premise is established.

Plot strands are dropped, scenes are arbitrarily trimmed, and characters are disposed of before they can even register.

What Gelb offers, rather than a thoughtful consideration of the themes on the table, is a progression of generic shock scares that get less creative, less surprising, and less effective as the film winds down and the air pours out of the balloon.

In other words, before you know it, the movie is, appropriately enough, on life support.

So we'll resuscitate 1-1/2 stars out of 4 for The Lazarus Effect, a horror clunker about bringing folks back from the dead that never quite makes it back itself.

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