No sneak peaks of films like Flatliners usually means the worst, literally

By Jim Slotek

As remakes go, I feel as if the reboot of Flatliners could only be better than the original. The 1990 Joel Schumacher version adhered stolidly to its premise – a bunch of medical students induce death-and-resuscitation to investigate the afterlife.

Said afterlife amounted to Schumacher’s prosaic vision of what the afterlife looked like (and remember, this is the guy who put nipples on Batman’s costume).

(Meanwhile, offscreen, apparently, while in a near-death state, stars Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts decided they were in love, and ended up engaged. Famously, just before the wedding, Julia read the script for Runaway Bride and left Kiefer at the altar.

But I digress…)

Ellen Page in Flatliners: Dead on arrival?

Ellen Page in Flatliners: Dead on arrival?

The trailers suggest the new version – with Ellen Page and, yes, Kiefer Sutherland - has a bunch of stuff Schumacher never thought of, like entities hitching a ride back (a la Insidious), and the revived med students suddenly having super-powers.

Whether this will be an improvement on the original is hard to say – because the studio, Sony, is not pre-screening it for critics or even for members of the public who win contests, as they normally would.

This the-less-said-about-this-the-better approach to movie releases is decades old. It actually dates back at least as far back as Psycho, when Alfred Hitchcock wanted to put a lid on the movie’s spoilers.

But unlike Psycho, most films released without pre-screenings are not movies for the ages - except in a bad way.

They include some of the acknowledged worst movies of all time, including Eddie Murphy’s The Adventures Of Pluto Nash, Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio, Movie 43 (which Richard Roeper called, “the Citizen Kane of awful”), Mortdecai starring Johnny Depp and, this year, The Emoji Movie.

Interestingly, some decent movies do get released unscreened – usually because the studio or distributor has no confidence in it in the first place, or there’s a new regime in place that wants to sweep projects from the previous administration under the rug.

One was 2010’s Country Strong, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw. Surprisingly not terrible, and its song, Coming Home, ended up with both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Maybe GOOP was already weighing down Gwyneth’s credibility.

And there are two absolute stand-outs I remember having to review in the theatre at the very first Friday screening. One was 2007’s Boy A, starring a young Andrew Garfield, and based on the story of two British boys who murdered a younger boy named James Bulger. It followed one of the unnamed offenders’ problematic release back into society. Truly a terrific movie that its distributor decided to toss under a bus for reasons unknown. When I saw it, I was alone in the theatre.

Seriously, if it ever shows up on Netflix, give Boy A a look. It’s a depressing watch, but well-written and acted.

The other is a movie that is not only clever and funny, but eerily prescient – given the devolution of pop culture and certain events in the political arena in the past year.

Terry Crews as President Comacho

Terry Crews as President Comacho

That would be 2006’s Idiocracy, directed by Mike Judge of Beavis & Butthead, King Of The Hill and Office Space fame. In it, Luke Wilson ably plays an ordinary schmoe who is put in hibernation and wakes up in the year 2505, when the world is so utterly dumbed-down, he is by default the smartest man in the world.

In retrospect, it captures the way those of us able to remember the 20th Century have begun to feel. We are not any smarter, but the world has become so stupid, you don't have to be that smart to feel like a genius.

Idiocracy has become a cult favourite, with the character of the bellicose President Camacho (Terry Crews) being featured in Funny Or Die videos, and even in an anti-Trump ad that was spiked by Fox (which still owns the rights to Idiocracy) and by Fox owner Rupert Murdoch.

What does this mean for Flatliners? Probably nothing good. Exceptions aside, when a studio says they want to promote a movie by word-of-mouth, they usually mean they want as many people to buy a ticket before word-of-mouth takes effect.