(director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez; screenwriters: Tim Talbott, based on the book “The Lucifer Effect” by Philip Zimbardo; cinematographer: Jas Shelton; editors: Fernando Collins; music: Andrew Hewitt; cast: Billy Crudup (Dr. Zimbardo), Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp / 8612), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell / 819), Olivia Thirlby (Dr. Christina Maslach), Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brent Emery, Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder, Greg Little, Lauren Bratman; Sandbar Pictures & Abandon Features; 2015)

The uneven film ran out of gas way before it crossed the finishing line.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup), in 1971, recklessly films a simulated role-playing experience in a fake prison (filmed at Stanford’s basement) to analyze bad behavior and to study the psychological effects of incarceration on everyone involved with the prison system. The experiment was ended after six days due to increased violence, though scheduled for 14 days. 24 male students were chosen to play roles as either guards or prisoners, and were paid $15 a day. Zimbardo’s simulation of prison life followed no scientific guidelines and yielded little of value, as its superficial findings are something that can be observed by just watching an ordinary prison movie. It tries to sell the notion that Zimbardo’s experiment had a lasting value, showing how power corrupts the guards. However, one of the inmate posers opines, “I have to say that this has been a very unsatisfying experience.” Which was my reaction to this bogus fact-based experimental movie.

It’s directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez as a difficult film to take lightly because it raises very real issues. Writer Tim Talbott bases it on the book “The Lucifer Effect” by Philip Zimbardo.

The morbid study might have value in that it questions changes that must be made in the prisons, but the uneven film ran out of gas way before it crossed the finishing line.

Among the guards who stand out are: Karl (Nicholas Braun), who plays the insecure bully, and Chris (Michael Angarano), who adopts the Southern drawl and swagger of Strother Martin’s prison-farm sadist in the Paul Newman film “Cool Hand Luke.”