Two Thrillers from Sony
Angel of Death (July 23/09)
Though originally released as a 10-part web series, Angel of Death - before it inevitably wears out its welcome - comes off as a surprisingly cinematic actioner that ultimately feels like a low-budget cousin to 2005's Sin City. Director Paul Etheredge has infused the proceedings with a comic-book-inspired visual sensibility that effectively complements Ed Brubaker's pulpy screenplay, with the movie's pared-down storyline - a tough-as-nails assassin (Zoe Bell's Eve) has a change of heart after receiving a stab wound to the brain (and accidentally killing a 14-year-old) - augmented by a series of unexpectedly enthralling action set-pieces. Bell's extensive work as a stunt performer is certainly reflected in the film's myriad of brutal hand-to-hand fight sequences, with the strength of such moments - ie Eve's throwdown with a nameless villain inside a dingy bathroom - initially compensating for the narrative's various deficiencies. It's consequently not surprising to note that Angel of Death is at its best when focused on Eve and her ongoing exploits, as the increased emphasis on the fairly dull goings on within a vicious crime family ensures that the movie runs out of steam long before it reaches its admittedly stirring finale. There's nevertheless little doubt that the film generally manages to hold one's interest, which - given the standard of quality one has come to expect from the direct-to-video scene - is just about all one can ask from such an endeavor (and it's certainly impossible to downplay the effectiveness of Ted Raimi's brief, and dialogue-free, cameo appearance).
The Lazarus Project (July 25/09)
The directorial debut of Eagle Eye screenwriter John Glenn, The Lazarus Project follows ex-convict Ben Garvey (Paul Walker) as he's sentenced to die for his participation in a criminal endeavor - with the bulk of the movie subsequently detailing Ben's post-execution struggles at figuring out just where he is (ie he seems to be the new caretaker at psychiatric facility). There's little doubt that The Lazarus Project gets off to a familiar yet promising start, as Glenn does an effective job of establishing the protagonist's hardscrabble efforts at going straight for his wife (Piper Perabo's Lisa) and daughter (Brooklynn Proulx's Katie). It's only as Ben finds himself working at the aforementioned psychiatric facility following his apparent death that one's interest starts to wane, with the aggressively deliberate pace exacerbated by Glenn's ongoing attempts at perpetuating the film's central mystery. There's subsequently little doubt that the almost supernatural atmosphere becomes increasingly tough to take, as Glenn peppers the proceedings with a number of egregiously oddball elements - ie Ben is pursued by Lambert Wilson's self-described angel - that ultimately prove instrumental in The Lazarus Project's transformation from a watchable drama to a frustratingly surreal (and progressively interminable) piece of work. It's a shame, really, given that Walker offers up a surprisingly subtle performance that's surely far more impressive than the movie deserves. And while the third-act explanation for the relentless weirdness is admittedly kind of intriguing, it's in no way effective enough to compensate for the entirely underwhelming nature of the film's midsection.