now and then you need to gather a couple of wise-assed friends, head
down to the local googleplex, sit in the dark and play Mystery Science
Theater. Sure, it annoys other patrons, so you have to choose your
movie carefully. Thankfully, Paul W.S. Anderson keeps making movies,
so you will always have the opportunity. His latest, Resident Evil,
tries hard to be entertaining on its own, but never quite reaches the
Not just an adaptation
of the popular videogame series but supposedly a "prequel," Resident
Evil plays out more like a series of your favorite moments from
the games. Isolated Mansion? Got it. The Hive? Got it. Mutant Dogs?
Oh, yeah, baby, got it (and admittedly, they are a nifty, creepy effect,
utilizing real Dobermans with as little CGI as possible).
But instead of
the game's heroine Jill Valentine, Anderson gives us Milla Jovovich
as Alice, a character so one-dimensional as to not have a last name.
But she does make a terrific entrance, naked on the floor of a beautiful
Why Alice? Because
Anderson has a personal obsession with the works of Lewis Carroll, which
played out better in last year's FX Network movie The Sight.
Here it may be subtler, but it forces a motif into the movie that even
Anderson eventually realizes just doesn't fit. Wonderland just wasn't
known for its walking dead, though it might explain a lot about the
The movie starts
out promisingly enough, flitting around a typical day in The Hive, the
research lab for The Umbrella Corporation. Of course, the research here
is the highly illegal kind, and the day becomes atypical when someone
purposely releases the T-virus into the lab. As that mysterious someone
rushes to get out, he bumps past a lot of characters actually allowed
brief flashes of personality.
because The Red Queen, the computer running The Hive, determines that
the best way to prevent a viral outbreak is to kill everybody. This
opening sequence proves terrifically unsettling, as of course we know
that these workers are minutes away from being the walking dead. As
they realize what's happening, their struggles to escape take on a dread
poignancy. And the movie never gets this deep again.
Instead it cuts
over to that naked Alice, waking up in a bathroom with chessboard tile
(get it?). She has no idea who she is, where she is, or how she got
there, but she does know that she has a few scars. (We're made to think
they have some plot significance, but really, it's just an awkward way
of saying this chick isn't afraid to get dirty in a fight.)
Wandering her looking-glass
mansion, Alice encounters ravens calling her outside, thrown in just
because ravens are cool portents of death. The reverie gets loudly interrupted
by armored soldiers, sent in by The Umbrella Corporation to find out
why The Red Queen shut down The Hive.
Taking along Matt
(Eric Mabius), who claims to be a cop, they all go down the rabbit hole
to the underground lair of The Red Queen. Matt's credentials are specious,
by the way, and meant to be so as proof of how corrupt and lazy The
Umbrella Corporation is. Never mind that even though the soldiers don't
believe Matt they still take him with them into a highly classified
and dangerous situation.
And from there,
appropriately, the movie is just a videogame. Oh, occasionally Alice
has memory flashbacks that try to add suspense. Really, though, all
that matters is that she is a highly trained security agent for the
Corporation, and though she may not remember the details, she can still
instinctively pull off amazing fight moves. So amazing they'll make
your thumbs ache for a control pad.
In Jovovich, Anderson
has a perfect videogame heroine. No one will confuse her with a great
actress (probably not even she would), but she has a strong presence,
and is surprisingly effective as an action heroine. If she doesn't show
much range here, it's because the film doesn't require it. All she has
to do is look alternately confused, slightly scared, and very, very
backs her up, too, as Agent Rain. Though again all she's called upon
to do is glower, she does it well. This woman takes no crap.
The men don't fare
so well. Mabius just seems gawky and slightly detached from the proceedings,
even when cornered by zombies. As the other half of the amnesiac security
team, James Purefoy struggles to sound American, and the effort takes
all of his energy. In fact, that proves a problem for a lot of the cast;
shot in Berlin, the film has a multi-national talent pool. That may
increase its chances of doing well internationally, but it makes for
sloppy continuity. Mabius' character's sister has a very refined English
accent, for example, while Mabius is very New York.
Fans of gore will
also likely be disappointed. Though the crew has given the zombies a
look distinctive from the usual George A. Romero rip-offs, they swarm
more than actually eat. Too much is given over to CGI effects, which
seems cold. We get to see the aftermath of attacks a couple of times,
but mostly Anderson opts to make this zombie movie claustrophobic instead
He also just makes
it loud. Anytime something dangerous might be about to happen,
the Marilyn Manson soundtrack cranks up to 11. If they can't make your
pulse pound with real suspense, they'll just startle you with heavy
metal. (This includes a sequence in which Jovovich stands stock still,
the guitars thrash for ten seconds, and then fade out. Nothing actually
happens at all.)
In some places,
at least, Anderson shows a little humor. But not enough. And that's
what's frustrating about Resident Evil (and almost everything
Anderson has ever done). There's not enough of anything. Not enough
gore, not enough horror, not enough suspense, and not enough real humor
on its own.
Fans of the game
may still be pleased just to see everything brought to life. Or maybe
they'll just play the imminent new game adapting it. But for the rest
of you, bring those buddies to help you laugh at the film. If only you
could have laughed with it, instead.