Remakes — especially of beloved classics — run the risk of alienating sentimental moviegoers. With “Flatliners,” Columbia Pictures takes a bold, innovative step to address this issue.
It’s startling in its simplicity. Rather than remake that well-known 1990 movie, it takes a whack at a picture whose contemporary name recognition derives mainly from its reputation as a largely derided post-Brat Pack ensemble piece. (And while the movie was indeed largely derided, The New York Times gave it a positive review, as did critic Roger Ebert.)
The original “Flatliners,” directed by Joel Schumacher from a script by Peter Filardi, teamed the newly minted Julia Roberts with the lesser-known peers Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and Billy Baldwin in an underbaked story of medical students in the grip of a literally morbid obsession. Intent on exploring life after death, they temporarily put themselves into the uncharted territory of brain death (hence the title), with what were supposedly scary side effects relating to the wreckages of their past.
Schumacher’s movie is more a failed tone poem than a horror picture, and to its credit, this new version, with a trickier script by Ben Ripley and hyper-competent direction from Swedish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, improves on it — by making it behave like a horror movie every now and then.
Still. As much as I try not to outsmart the movies I watch, when this one opened with a color-desaturated scene of Ellen Page driving a car with a young girl in the passenger seat, the devil on my shoulder said, “There is going to be a terrible accident, the girl is going to die, and this will spur the Ellen Page character into exploring the afterlife.”
I was right. This set the tone for much of the rest of my viewing.
Sutherland shows up here, but he doesn’t reprise his irresponsible character from the first movie; he is a supervisor to the five medical students having after-death adventures, each one a particular type (There’s James Norton’s playboy, Nina Dobrev’s alpha, Kiersey Clemons’ striver and Diego Luna’s Diego Luna), saddled with guilt that haunts them despite their near-death experiences also turning them into super-geniuses.
This film did not screen for critics, nor was it previewed in New York theaters on a Thursday night, as is usually customary with studio pictures. I imagine Columbia understood that it had something arguably worse than a dog on its hands. This “Flatliners” is in fact a new definition of “meh.”