Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Every Time I Die

You would hope a paramedic would respond quicker during times of crisis, but poor Sam is apparently not so nimble. It will even get him killed—more than once. Yet, much to his surprise, his spirit keeps taking over the bodies of his friends (or the closest acquaintances he has) in Robi Michael’s Every Time I Die, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Between the married woman he is obsessed with and his repressed memories of his sister’s death during their childhood, Sam has all kinds of issues he isn’t dealing with. Nevertheless, his partner Jay, now chipper and philosophical after surviving a breakdown, still sufficiently values his company to invite him along for a weekend by the lake. It should be cozy sitting around the fireplace with Jay, his girlfriend Poppy, her sister Mia (whom Sam has been sleeping with), and her violent-tempered husband Tyler, who just returned from a tour of duty with the U.S. Army. Sounds like fun, right?

Of course, Tyler turns out to be a rage-fueled psychopath, who kills Sam in a fit of jealousy, launching his body-jumping. So much for thanking veterans for their service and sacrifice. For Michael, they are apparently just creepy stalkers—perfect fodder to demonize on film. It is a shame, because it significantly detracts from a clever concept.

Michael’s overwrought style does not help either. There are way too many woo-woo interludes and symbolism-laden deep dives into Sam’s subconscious. As a result, most viewers will start to feel detached from the narrative and the fantastical Macguffin driving it. Frankly, this is probably a case where less would have been more. The leaner, grittier Lifechanger is a prime example, especially since it also features a protagonist whose consciousness jumps from body to body.

Drew Fonteiro’s repressed-to-the-point-of-lifelessness portrayal of Sam does not help the film much during the first half hour either. Even though Tyler is a problematic heavy, Tyler Dash White’s performance somewhat humanizes him, which is something. Michelle and Melissa Macedo definitely look like sisters (with good reason), but they are also pretty compelling and believable dealing with Sam, in his various erratic acting hosts.

The final implied twist is a good one, but it takes far too long for Sam to start his body-hopping. The fact that Michael manages to pull viewers back in is impressive, but audience engagement should not ebb and flow to such an extent in the first place. Still, there would probably be enough interesting elements to recommend Every Time I Die, were it not for the problematic stereotyping of veterans. Enormously frustrating, it opens this Friday (8/9) in LA, at the Arena.