The Lazarus Project (2008)
“Some realities have no escape”
Director: John Glenn
Cast: Paul Walker, Piper Perabo, Brooklynn Proulx
Synopsis: A former criminal is drawn into a criminal endeavor and subsequently finds himself living an inexplicable new life working at a psychiatric facility.
Paul Walker (2 Fast 2 Furious) took time out from all those Fast and Furious movies to make this low-key, low-budget, low-interest mystery movie, and while he’s to be applauded for selecting a role that is far removed from those of Brian O’Conner, it’s fair to say that The Lazarus Project dies at the same time that Walker’s character apparently suffers the same fate by lethal injection, but that, unlike Ben Garvey, it never experiences any hint of a resurrection.
The Lazarus Project starts out as a straightforward crime thriller, with ex-con Ben Garvey (Paul Walker) appearing to have turned his life around. He’s got a loving wife (Piper Perabo – The Prestige), a cute daughter (Brooklyn Proulx – Piranha 3D) and a good job with promotion prospects at the local brewery. In fact, life couldn’t get much better, which, in a movie like The Lazarus Project, is a sure sign that something has to go wrong. Sure enough, this cosy little family unit is intruded upon by Ben’s little brother, Ricky (Shawn Hatosy), another ex-con who has no intention of going straight. In fact, little Ricky’s already got a job lined up, and is keen for his big bro to get involved. Ben initially turns down Ricky’s offer, but when the brewery’s new owners learn of his past he’s promptly shown the door, and the promise of quick riches proves impossible to resist. Naturally, things go seriously wrong, with Ricky and another accomplice both dying in an armed confrontation with a cop. A security guard also buys it, and as the only surviving member of the gang of thieves, Ben is considered responsible for all the deaths, even though he didn’t actually kill anybody.
Ben is sentenced to die, and duly undergoes a state execution after a couple of years of unsuccessful appeals. This is where things turn a little strange, because in the very next scene we see a hooded figure accepting a lift from Father Ezra (Bob Gunton), who correctly presumes that his passenger is the new groundskeeper at the psychiatric facility he manages. Of course, given the film’s title and the fact that we’re only half-an-hour into the story, it comes as no real surprise to discover that his passenger is none other than the newly-executed Ben Garvey.
It’s at this point in the movie that things should become intriguing — and initially we are intrigued. But, as I mentioned earlier, the pace of the movie falls to the ground with a resounding thud at this point, which effectively smothers any curiosity we might have about Ben’s situation and how it will be resolved. For about an hour or so, Ben mopes around, drawing pictures of the wife and child he’s been told he can never contact again (even though he’s granted unsupervised internet access and is able to make out-of-state phone calls), holding desultory conversations with Robbie (Malcolm Goodwin) and receiving veiled warnings of doom from another inmate, and being prevented from leaving the facility by Avery (Lambert Wilson), a kind of warden-cum-guardian-angel. Like Ben, the plot goes nowhere, and you find yourself wishing something — anything — would happen to get the movie moving again.
Although The Lazarus Project is a competently made movie with reasonable performances for a DTV release, its faults run too deep to be ignored. First of all, Ben is such a self-pitying idiot that it’s almost impossible to feel much sympathy for him. Upon losing his job, instead of signing on and looking for another one like any half-intelligent adult, he immediately returns to the life of crime which, just a couple of scenes earlier, he had sworn he’d abandoned forever. Then, when he’s given the chance of life, he decides it can only be on his own terms and that he has to be reunited with his wife and kid — because that security guard who died as a result of his decision to return to crime is unimportant, right? Just as long as poor Ben gets what he believes he deserves. The other major flaw is the truth behind the facility in which Ben is housed, which we finally learn about after all that endless moping around. I won’t reveal what the big revelation is — and it’s perhaps creditable that it isn’t that Ben is languishing in purgatory as I’d half-expected it to be — but let’s just say it’s so far-fetched as to be ludicrous.