Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Look: I am far from a cinema snob. I seem to recall saying nice things about Jason X, Anchorman, and other appeals to the base corners of our nature. And I know when to scale down expectations, such as when approaching a horror film based on a video game. The first Resident Evil film (2002), which I recently caught up with on DVD, was dumb as a box of hair but a serviceable Saturday-night beer-and-pizza flick. It certainly didn’t hold a candle to the zombie films of George Romero (who was once slated to direct it), but it moved well enough, and in Milla Jovovich it had a heroine not unpleasant to regard. Resident Evil made money, so now we have Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which doesn’t even hold a candle to Resident Evil. George Romero could direct a birthday-party home video scarier than this.

Not that I expected groundbreaking horror. You go to a Resident Evil flick for the action — specifically, Milla Jovovich vs. zombies. Problem number one: Milla doesn’t really get into the game until halfway into the proceedings. For the first half, we’re following a motley crew of survivors who’ve been locked into Raccoon City with hundreds of zombies — two super-special cops (Raz Adoti and the comely nonactress Sienna Guillory, who plays video game holdover Jill Valentine), a comic-relief black guy (Mike Epps), and a whiny TV reporter (Sandrine Holt). Presumably other humans are kicking around the quarantined city, too, but they must be hiding really well.

Just when things are looking bleak for our four default heroes inside a church — which has become a haven for three vicious mutants with tongues long enough to make Gene Simmons insecure — in rides Milla, on a motorcycle, through a stained-glass window. She dispatches one of the mutants, I think, by entangling it in the flying motorcycle and shooting at the gas tank. Which brings us to problem number two: You can never be quite sure what’s going on. In The Five Obstructions, filmmaker Lars von Trier challenges his mentor to remake a short film in a variety of ways, including one variation in which each shot is only half a second long. RE:A‘s director Alexander Witt (a former second-unit director) and his trigger-happy editors must’ve taken their inspiration from that challenge.

So the action — what we’re there for — is incomprehensible, and the story — what we’re not there for — even more so. At least the first Resident Evil took a minimalist video game structure, with its characters proceeding through identifiable levels. Here, the overdue plot motor kicks in when a brainiac (Jared Harris) offers Milla and the gang a way out of Raccoon City in exchange for rescuing his daughter. They’re on a timetable, too, because the city is due to be nuked by government/military/corporate powers (in this film there’s hardly a difference) at sunrise. So we enter the Escape from New York level of the game, complete with a towering nemesis, appropriately named Project Nemesis, who looks like a cross between Swamp Thing and Eddie, the crazed critter on all those Iron Maiden album covers.

Milla faces off against Swamp Eddie on orders from the bad guys, with the editors working overtime to convince you that a 115-pound former model can wipe the floor with a genetically-engineered hulk. (We’ve just seen her take out a dozen armed guards, but she apparently can’t take out the four or so guards forcing her to fight Swamp Eddie.) The zombie dogs from the first film return briefly, in a pathetic swipe from Jurassic Park‘s raptors-in-the-kitchen scene. The brainiac’s little girl may or may not be the human prototype for the taunting holographic girl in the first movie; the sequel never stops to tell us.

At least Resident Evil paired Milla with Michelle Rodriguez, who brought her sullen Latina brio to the party. This film brings in Jill Valentine, apparently quite a popular character among fans of the game, and though Sienna Guillory looks just like her, it would’ve been nice if the filmmakers had eschewed physical similarity in favor of an actress who can act (not to mention one who’s even faintly plausible as a tough cop). The movie also doesn’t care about the millions of lives lost in Raccoon City as long as our heroes get out unscathed and ensure yet another sequel. And, yes, the ending leaves things wide open for a Resident Evil: Post-Apocalypse, or whatever they wind up calling it.

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