'Phoenix Project' fails to rise

An intriguing story and committed cast can't help the sci-fi 'Phoenix Project' rise to the occasion

Four scientists converge in a garage in a bid to conquer mortality in "The Phoenix Project," a technically impressive but talky sci-fi drama that never quite comes to life.

Set in an unspecified time and place (although unlikely the present, given all the analog lab equipment and the use of a manual portable typewriter), the film follows the efforts of clean-cut young men sequestered in a house with reanimation on their minds.

With their grant money allowing for only five tests, they start small with little dead creatures like insects and mice before inevitably raising the stakes as well as moral issues that come along with playing God.

Making his long-form debut, writer-director Tyler Pavey, working with recent film school grads, has an intriguing Frankenstein story at his disposal, as well as a committed cast (Corey Rieger, Andrew Simpson, David Pesta and Orson Ossman), penetrating camera work (by Alan Dean) and a propulsive score (Henry Allen).

The missing component is mounting dramatic tension. When staging a feature-length production in a single location, tautly calibrated storytelling is essential to compensate for what could otherwise become an inert proposition.

Despite its loftier aspirations, "The Phoenix Project" seldom rises to the occasion.

"The Phoenix Project."

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.

Also on VOD.

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