2002 - R - 100 Mins.
|Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
|Producer: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida
|Written By: Paul W.S. Anderson
|Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy
|Review by: Jake Cremins
There is a moment in 'Resident Evil' when the situation looks hopeless. Here's this guy, surrounded by zombies, and with only one bullet left in his gun. He points the gun at his head, face squinched in despair...and then turns it back again, fires at the closest zombie and begins fighting his way out.
It's a sad, sad day when an image like this does not mean the movie is going to be any good.
If this scene rings a bell, you're probably going to dislike this movie about as much as I did. Perhaps it's possible to get away with such flagrant rip-offery–if the movie doing the ripping off lets on that it's paying tribute, or if it provides a new twist on a familiar situation–but 'Resident Evil' just repeats scenes like that one by rote. If there's any twist, it's that these scenes now involve characters we don't know or care about, in a movie that makes precious little sense.
The story is inspired by a popular video game (there's a red flag right there). In a secret underground facility known as The Hive, a virus has been accidentally released. The supercomputer in charge of the compound responds by drowning and gassing all of the employees. This turns out to be kind of a dumb idea, because the virus brings the dead back to life and gives them a taste for human flesh. The Hive is owned by the aptly named Umbrella Corporation, which is clever enough to own just about everything, but apparently not clever enough to have a fail-safe system where homicidal computers can be shut down from outside the Hive.
So a team is sent underground to shut down the computer, although we really know that they're sent in because if there was no team, there would be no movie. They are headed by the fetching Milla Jovovich; fortunately she works for Umbrella and would conceivably be useful in this type of situation, but unfortunately she has a case of amnesia caused by a mysterious gas that hissed out of her shower. Oh well.
All of this could have been great trash, if the movie had betrayed the slightest sense of humor. I mean, there's a scene where Jovovich is kung-fu fighting undead Dobermans; how seriously can you take this stuff? The movie takes it very seriously. There are a few terse one-liners from a soldier played by Michelle Rodriguez (suitable for the trailer), and that's pretty much it. We realize that if the characters can't find any humor in a situation this dumb, they are dumber and more humorless than us, and not much worth watching.
There is one level on which 'Resident Evil' succeeds spectacularly, and that is as eye candy. Everything in this movie is shiny and cold and colorful and antiseptic. Even the zombies look carefully prefabricated (which, of course, they are). There is a terrific-looking scene in which a few characters are trapped in a hallway where lasers zoom from one end to the other, dismembering anybody who gets in their way. The curious thing about that scene is that it's so obviously designed to be cool-looking, instead of frightening: one character is decapitated, and the camera takes a nice, leisurely tour around her so we can admire the special effects as her head slides off her body and topples to the floor.
Who would enjoy this movie? Cinematographers and effects technicians on a busman's holiday? Horror fans will find a few appropriately violent deaths, but they'll never be scared, and may realize that even zombie movies are more effective when we can get invested in the characters, and care whether or not they're currently being eaten. If you don't know what movie I was talking about in the opening paragraph, 'Resident Evil' may seem fresh and original to you, but George Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' will seem even more so, and is a movie I heartily recommend instead of this one.