I’m dumbfounded by the idea of remaking a movie that was no damn good in the first place. Is it the possibility of making it better? The exact opposite happens with Flatliners, an update of the 1990 Joel Schumacher film that became a hit by corralling hot young talent of the day (Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon) into a trippy premise about medical students experimenting with stopping their hearts for a few minutes to see what death is like. Credit Flatliners 2.0, with a script by Ben Ripley of Source Code, for being even more witless and stupefyingly dull than the original. That’s really saying something. Sutherland, his hair gone steel gray, is back for the retread, this time playing an old-fart doctor riding hard on the young’uns. Ellen Page is stuck with the role of Courtney, a med student obsessed with life after death because she killed her kid sister during a texting-while-driving incident. Maybe she’ll see her again in the great beyond before Courtney’s brain goes dead after four minutes. Courtney persuades four fellow students to help her. She can’t just stop her own heart in a hospital basement, she needs a team to revive her.
Though skeptical, Marlo (Nina Dobrev of The Vampire Diaries), Jamie (James Norton of Grantchester), and Sophia (Kiersey Clemon, of Dope) say yes. The older and wiser Ray (Diego Luna of Rogue One) is dragged in to assist in case the others fuck up, which they invariably do. They also go flatlining themselves, except for Ray. The scariest thing in this fright-free fiasco is thinking medical schools are producing doctors this clueless (it’s like a flash-forward to a world where Trump gets his way on health care). At one point, Marlo suggests that they should “bottle flatlining and sell it as a club drug.” Bummer idea, since the only fun side effect is getting a brain boost, helpful in exam taking. Mostly, these flatliners just have nightmares about the people they’ve sinned against and then get all crazy and suicidal until they figure out that temporary death is the next best thing to a 12-step program. Director Niels Arden Oplev, of the excellent Danish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, appears to have lost his ability to create tension, much less sustain it. The dream sequences of the afterlife all look like cheap ripoffs from last-century vidgames (for the real deal in sci-fi splendor, check out next week’s Blade Runner 2049). Flatliners isn’t a total washout. After watching endless, repetitive scenes of actors simulating death, sleepy audiences will experience a nerve-deadening helplessness very close to coma. At least it ends the agony of listening to flatliners preach about the need to forgive ourselves. Note to the makers of this film: you’re unforgiven.