The Theory of Chaos

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Resident Evil: Extinction

Originally published 9/22/07
Full review behind the jump

Resident Evil: Extinction

: Russell Mulcahy
: Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the video game by Capcom
: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Robert Kulzer
: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Ashanti, Christopher Egan, Spencer Locke, Jason O’Mara, Mike Epps

It’s a relief to know I can still be surprised. I walked into
Resident Evil: Extinction carrying all the baggage of its two predecessors. These adaptations of the zombie-laced video game franchise were both ugly and moronic; tragic wastes of the killer-doll features of star Milla Jovovich. I was ready to spend 1,000 words artfully tearing this third edition asunder, only bloody chunks of it left to land on my annual “10 Worst” list.

But honesty compels me to state that its “10 Worst” status is no longer a lock. It’s far from a good movie, but it’s an appealing sort of not-good, if you take my meaning. At last it feels cozily wed to its own daftness. There are moments that actually display a genuinely playful idiocy, an ownership of this silly goulash of sinister corporate suits, undead Dobermans, and a heroine who, surrounded by hundreds, thousands, or even millions of ghouls, will still take them on one at a time, with knives. These have always been ridiculous movies, but it’s as if the filmmakers themselves finally got the memo and have stopped trying so hard to look cool.

I don’t know how to account for this sudden outbreak of non-badness from writer/producer Paul W.S. Anderson, who has written all three pictures and directed the first before gallivanting off to ruin other franchises as well. I fear it won’t last past the credits of this one, but at the very least I can report far less people, this time around, will feel like they’ve wasted their money.

Every time we catch up with Alice (Jovovich), the world has gotten much much worse. First the “T-Virus” manufactured by the ruthless Umbrella Corporation infected their underground laboratory, “The Hive”. After that, it spread above-ground to the ill-fated Raccoon City. Now it has essentially consumed humanity, leaving only small roving bands of survivors traveling across a wasteland that even Mad Max would label as being a bit on the bleak side.

Alice, who in addition to her combat machismo has also developed mental powers somewhere on the threshold between a Jedi Knight and Stephen King’s Carrie, travels on a hefty motorcycle, which is unwise in that it ties her to a network of increasingly malfunctioning and empty gas stations. Zombie survival guru Max Brooks recommends the versatile, quiet, and human-powered bicycle as the most effective means of transport in a post zombie-pocalypse world. But in all fairness, BMW probably provides much heftier promotional support than Schwinn.

Some of the other survivors of the previous film have banded together under the leadership of Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) in an armed caravan. No bicycles to be found there, either. And in underground facilities around the world, Umbrella executives hunker down in their labs with more genetic goop (and presumably, a lot of canned food) and try and figure out the strategy for the next fiscal quarter.

All will clash eventually, and what I enjoy about the conflagrations this time is not just their clarity and gushy excess, but their willingness to goof. Director Russell Mulcahy was part of the first generation of music video shooters to break into the feature world, he made the original Highlander as well as the big-budget adaptation of The Shadow, which I think was at that time unjustly-maligned due to severe Baldwin fatigue. It too had a kind of a sly strangeness that crept into scenes just long enough to make you double-take.

Watch the performance by Jason O’Mara in this movie, as Umbrella Chairman Arnold Wexler. His dialogue delivery is inimitably bizarre; both mannered and dripping, like a robot trying to impersonate a soap opera bad guy. Whether this is a tribute to the famously-stilted speech of the original game (“STOP!.....DON’T! OPEN!.....THAT DOOR!”) or it’s O’Mara’s Irish mouth mishandling the American accent, or even if it’s some cunningly intentional bit of manneredness, he comes off like he was choppered in from a David Lynch film.

I see feints in the direction of other movies all over – like Akira and Planet of the Apes. There’s a riff on Hitchcock’s The Birds that posits the question of what happens when crows eat undead flesh. And a laugh-out-loud scene shows what inevitably results when scientists attempt the same domesticating education that produced the endearing zombie Bub in George Romero’s Day of the Dead, only with a much less dedicated student.

The zombies in the Resident Evil picture have been gradually evolving their own identity. They’re a surlier, more vocal bunch than Romero’s, and their faces are inexplicably chunky, like they’ve been dipped in mud, yet the run-of-the-mill ones (an enhanced breed is rolled out as a new Umbrella product) never accelerate beyond the customary old-school lurch, which I approve of. But the human characters are a little different this time around; at long last it’s gotten through to them what’s happening to planet Earth because of this Virus, and there’s less posing and spouting of dim-witted catch phrases. Even Alice is finally letting her husky voice and steely eyes soften once in awhile.

That’s a long way from saying we care about them, or even remember most of their names – one of the refugees calls herself K-Mart (Spencer Locke), which wedges product placement into the collapse of society easily as well as the heroic character “Ford Lincoln Mercury” in Kevin Costner’s The Postman. They, and the zombies who seek to devour them, are still little more than action figures pulled out of the toy-box for an unserious scrap. But it’s that unseriousness which makes Resident Evil: Extinction, unpredictably but decisively, the best movie of its series.


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