Disregard both the DVD cover and the trailer when deciding whether or not you should watch The Lazarus Papers. The former promises and action-thriller led by Gary Daniels and co-starring Bai Ling and a Machete-like Danny Trejo. The latter is not dissimilar to that promise and, like the cover, doesn’t even tell you who the two leading actors of the movie are. Such is life in the direct-to-DVD world, I suppose. Promote the stars who might draw buyers. I get it; I just don’t agree with it.
The film actually stars Krystal Vee, playing Nana, whose village gets massacred and imprisoned by the Gary Daniels character, Sebastian Riker. She gets dragged — almost literally — into the middle of a prostitution ring, as well as into a life of drugs. After one particularly nasty job, she teams up with a terminally ill man, Lonny (John Edward Lee), steals a bunch of money from the leader of the ring, and attempts to escape. The rest of the movie has Nana and Lonny running away from Riker. That’s the gist of the basic plot, although there are a couple of subplots which serve primarily to confuse us and secondarily to do something else, although exactly what is beyond me.
The most prominent subplot involves a shaman (Trejo), who can heal anyone from any injury and is unable to die. He’s tired of this, and decides to spend a lot of the film trying to pass on his powers to someone else, which apparently will finally let him rest in peace. There’s also a cop, played by Forest Whitaker’s son, Damon, who tries to bring down Riker.
Pretty much every one of these characters meets up in the finale for some sort of showdown. It really comes down to Nana and Riker, but most of the other ones are present, too, simply because they must be. The Lazarus Papers almost gives the impression that everything and everyone is connected, but never brings the idea full-circle. In fact, that’s a pretty apt description of the entire film. Everything is half-done, but never fully realized. That, or it’s some sort of higher plane genius I’ll never understand.
I don’t think that’s the case, however, as one scene has Gary Daniels dropping some martial arts on unsuspecting guards. It comes out of nowhere and is exactly what you’d expect out of a Gary Daniels B-movie — except that this sort of over-the-top action doesn’t exist for the rest of the movie. It makes no sense to throw it in there except likely because of a contractual obligation in order to lure Gary Daniels to this type of project. It’s not a full-on action movie; there’s a lot of talking, although I can’t really remember about what.
The problem I have with The Lazarus Papers, apart from the aforementioned lack of completeness, is how not much of it sticks in your mind afterward. It’s a bad movie, I’m sure, but I actually had a good time while watching it. Or, at least, while watching its main story, which takes up about 2/3 of the screen time. Watching good-girl-turned-bad Krystal Vee was a great time, and John Edward Lee made a good sidekick; their romance and situation was just crazy enough to work. But if you asked me to remember more than one or two specific scenes, I’d be at a loss.
The supernatural aspect seemed to be building up to something profound, but then it petered out into nothing of importance. The cop character does one thing in the entire movie and it could have been accomplished by another character. Nana’s heroin addiction gets ended midway through and doesn’t crop up, even though heroin addictions are kind of a terrible thing to try to overcome. The terminal illness plaguing Lonny also doesn’t matter.
The Lazarus Papers really seemed like a movie which attempted some big ideas but didn’t have people behind it with the competency to pull any of them off. As a result, it sits there like an ambitious and yet incomplete school project. You like the idea, but you still can’t give the student a passing grade because he or she didn’t actually deliver something worthwhile. It would probably be well worth watching if its ideas were expanded or even mostly (not even fully) realized.
I’m not sure if most of the actors in the film are going to entice you into seeing it. Danny Trejo is in lots of movies and isn’t in this one all that much, despite what the limited advertising would lead you to believe. Bai Ling and Tony “Tiny” Lister are essentially in cameo roles. Gary Daniels doesn’t get much of the action you’d expect from him. It’s mostly Krystal Vee’s show (who gets an “introducing …” credit), and she was a lot of fun to watch.
I don’t know if The Lazarus Papers is worth watching. I lean toward saying it isn’t. However, unlike most straight-to-DVD movies, there are some interesting ideas that are at least thought of, if not actually used, and it’s not like distractingly bad CGI is going to hamper your enjoyment of this movie. It has actually been shot rather competently and has performances that aren’t terrible, too. It just feel incomplete, as if ambition levels were far above the talent of the filmmakers. Appreciate what we get, I suppose, although I’m not about to recommend seeing The Lazarus Papers.