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Remake revives ‘Flatliners’ but breathes no new life into it

Ellen Page in "Flatliners." | COLUMBIA PICTURESA

So often, remaking a film — or attempting to turn a once-popular television series into a feature film — turns out to be a less-than-inspiring idea. Unfortunately, that again is the case with a remake of the 1990 movie “Flatliners.” While the talented cast — especially principals Ellen Page, Kiersey Clemons, Diego Luna, James Norton and Nina Dobrev — do as well as can be expected with the (excuse the weak pun) pretty flat script, this remake likely will be all but forgotten shortly after it hits multiplexes this weekend.

The setup is pretty much the same as the original film. Medical student Courtney (Page) is the instigator — the role handled by Kiefer Sutherland earlier, the first to take the plunge to stop one’s heart briefly in an attempt to both experience near-death and track brain functions to determine what happens after we die. Initially, that risky experiment yields what seem to be great results as Courtney suddenly becomes a whiz at everything from playing the piano to baking bread to unraveling complicated medical problems, far above her current level of training.

Of course, that leads her classmates to demand a similar mind-blowing but heart-stopping trip to better themselves. All of them are gung-ho for it with the exception of Luna’s Rudy, who lays the groundwork for a dangerous future twist. The problem arises when long-repressed feelings of guilt for a range of past misdeeds come back to haunt our attractive young cast — in ways that truly spook them out.

Sutherland returns in this remake in a few pretty thankless scenes — still named Nelson, but now the hospital honcho in charge of schooling these budding doctors.

Not every remake is unnecessary, but the idea only works when the new movie takes the basic premise and takes it in new directions. A good example would be David Fincher’s expansion of the Danish production of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Cinema fans will pick up on the irony here: that original filming of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel was helmed by none other than Niels Arden Oplev — the fellow who directed this new, and definitely not improved, “Flatliners.”

★★

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Niels Arden Oplev and written by Ben Ripley. Rated PG-13 (for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references). Running time: 104 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.