THE LAZARUS PROJECT (THE HEAVEN PROJECT)
(director/writer: John Glenn; screenwriter: story by Evan Astrowsky; cinematographer: Jerzy Zielinski; editors: Fred Raskin/M. Scott Smith; music: Brian Tyler; cast: Paul Walker (Ben Garvey), Tony Curran (William Reeds), Bob Gunton (Father Ezra), Lambert Wilson (Avery), Piper Perabo (Lisa Garvey), Linda Cardellini (Julie Ingram), Malcolm Goodwin (Robbie), Brooklyn Proulx (Katie Garvey), Shawn Hatosy (Ricky Garvey), Alex Sol (Phelps), Frank Adamson (Danny); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: David Hoberman/Todd Lieberman/Travis Adam Wright/Matt Milich/Bill Johnson; Sony Entertainment; 2008)
“Everything is nonsense and not worth pondering.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This nightmarish psychological thriller about the dangers of extreme medical experiments and suffocating religious programs is haphazardly directed and written by the screenwriter John Glenn, in his directorial debut. It’s based on a story by Evan Astrowsky. The film had no theater release, going straight to video.
Ben Garvey (Paul Walker) is an ex-con who turned his life around by going straight and has a steady blue collar shipping foreman job for a brewery. He lives modestly in Dallas with his supportive wife Lisa (Piper Perabo) and cute young daughter Katie (Brooklyn Prolx). When the plant boss (Frank Adamson) puts him up for a promotion in a new site, the owners do a security search and discover he’s an ex-con and order him fired. At the same time his wastrel younger brother Ricky (Shawn Hatosy) is released from a Florida prison after serving time for burglary and visits him. He convinces the reluctant Ben to help in a get-rich-quick heist he must do to pay off gangsters he owes money to who won’t accept a no answer. The robbery is botched and Ben’s partners kill three people. This gets Ben the death sentence in Texas. But after getting his lethal injection he’s surprisingly not dead but turns up in rural Oregon with a new identity as the groundskeeper in a faith-based mental hospital run by the mysterious Father Ezra (Bob Gunton). The priest tells him ‘We all create fictions to deal with our pain.’ This will supposedly suffice our curiosity about what’s going down until the time is ripe for the great reveal about what this supernatural atmosphere signifies. Meanwhile a somber Ben questions his sanity as he searches for answers to what is happening to him in this strange situation. There’s an unappealing ghostly angel, Avery (Lambert Wilson), who follows Ben around and warns him if he leaves the grounds he will be dead. Ben tries to stay calm and agreeably works on the grounds with Robbie (Malcolm Goodwin), a gentle inmate who brutally stabbed his father to death. Robbie believes he’s always being watched and is clearly nuts. Ben will adopt a German shepherd (or so it seems!) and befriend the hospital’s attractive patient counselor (Linda Cardellini). But Ben is vexed when an unstable psychopath inmate commits suicide (Tony Curran), saying he sees no escape from here. This makes Ben more aggressive and more certain he wants to flee. In the end, we are asked to wonder if this loony bin scenario signifies that Ben is cracking up, or getting a second chance, or is in a state of limbo, or maybe is just having a bad dream.
What ultimately seems true about the moody chiller is that the answers finally given are nonsense and not worth pondering. To his credit, Paul Walker gives a better performance than this underdeveloped film deserved.
REVIEWED ON 1/22/2017 GRADE: C-