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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

03/04/2015
Focus
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — More than most heist movies, the flimsy crime drama Focus (Warner Bros.) glamorizes wrongdoing. Add to that the lax sexual morals and gritty vocabulary of its characters, and the resulting package can be considered suitable for very few.

Directors and co-writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s slick little jaunt through the underworld gets rolling when small-time swindler Jess (Margot Robbie) tries to extort money from a stranger she picks up in a bar. But her ill-chosen victim, Nicky (Will Smith), turns out to be an inveterate and accomplished con man who merely laughs off Jess’ amateurish scheme.

Recognizing Nicky’s superior gifts, Jess begs him to bring her into his gang and, after some hesitation, he agrees. But romance — needless to say, the two fall for each other — and robbery make for a volatile mix, leading to a variety of personal and professional conflicts.

Jess and Nicky eventually become entangled with sleazy car racing big shot Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), who’s just as corrupt as they are. But their earlier targets are ordinary tourists out for a good time at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Though some of these are unfaithful husbands whose ethical lapses make them vulnerable, all of those on whom Jess and Nicky prey are implicitly portrayed, in the frequently trite script, as suckers who deserve what they get.

This fundamentally flawed outlook is accompanied by the occasional interlude of raunchy humor, taken-for-granted premarital physicality and a carpet-bombing campaign of expletives. As a result, not only the young and impressionable but even many grown moviegoers would be well advised to fix their focus elsewhere.

The film contains distorted values requiring mature discernment, brief scenes of semi-graphic sexual activity, adulterous situations, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


The Lazarus Effect
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — There’s not much new explained about the hazards of tampering with nature in the second-rate horror exercise The Lazarus Effect (Relativity).

There’s also little that’s frightening.

Assisted by plucky videographer Eva (Sarah Bolger), four intrepid young medical researchers — Frank (Mark Duplass), his fiancee, Zoe (Olivia Wilde), Clay (Evan Peters) and Niko (Donald Glover) — have been developing a treatment to restore neural functions in coma patients. Their “Lazarus formula” combines serum injections with electrical shocks.

As the film opens, the quartet have already gotten carried away with the implications of their work, and are busily attempting to jolt life into dead animals.

They score a twofer by restoring a dog to the land of the living while also curing his cataracts. No one, in the manner of Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein, announces, “It’s alive!” Instead, Clay reflects, “This might work!”

The pooch isn’t overjoyed with his jumper-cable “resurrection.” The resulting overload of brain chemicals gets every single synapse clicking along so well that hallucinations — and, inconveniently, telekinesis — result.

Even attributed to a canine Carrie, this remains the most boring power in all of horror filmdom, since making lab equipment fly around will never rise above a cheap special effect.

How much longer until these overgrown Doogie Howsers try to revive a person? Not long.

Opportunity knocks when Zoe is accidentally electrocuted during the attempt to revive another dog. Frank quickly rigs her up to the equipment, only to be startled when she bolts back into action.

Like the dog before her, Zoe 2.0 isn’t quite right, and is soon chasing her pals around the lab while dealing with the childhood trauma of having started a fatal fire. The fright factor consists of Zoe popping out of the shadows when she’s not reading minds or skittering down hallways.

Before her revivification, Zoe is revealed to be nominally Catholic. This means she reflects on her mortal soul after Frank teases her, “Two glasses of wine and the inner Catholic girl comes out.”

As limned by director David Gelb and screenwriters Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater, Zoe’s bargain-basement theological exposition has little enough to do with the actual faith. She regards hell, for instance, as a personal creation in which one keeps repeating a painful moment from life.

For better or worse, though, such musings zoom past before the movie gets down to the genuine business at hand — to wit, an unconvincing portrayal of mayhem and death.

The film contains frequent action violence, some sexual banter and fleeting profanity and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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