Saturday, October 27, 2007

Resident Evil: Extinction / ** (R)

Alice: Milla Jovovich
Carlos Olivera: Oded Fehr
Claire Redfield: Ali Larter
Dr. Isaacs: Iain Glen

Screen Gems presents a film directed by Russell Mulcahy. Written by Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the Capcom video game series. Running time: 95 min. Rated R (for strong horror violence throughout and some nudity).

I’ll admit it. I’m not a video game fan. I don’t like playing them, and I’m not good at them—two facts that are probably related. But my general displeasure with video game movie adaptations has nothing to do with this. I am a film fan, and any story that is told well interests me no matter what its source. I state this because there has been an ongoing argument about why film critics seem set against video game adaptations. The most interesting of these debates has taken place between Roger Ebert and horror icon/video game creator Clive Barker. Much of this clash has been documented in Roger Ebert’s weekly Answer Man column, archived at

I actually enjoyed the first “Resident Evil” film, even though it shared the same mentality that is the downfall of so many video game adaptations. Many video games are based on the idea of interactive combat, which can be a whole lot of fun to test personal skills against but doesn’t really make for great storytelling. Yet so many video game adaptations rely heavily on the combat and violence of their source material to tell their stories. “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”, the second in the series, leaned so heavily on creating the most grotesque monsters to slaughter the cast and to be slaughtered by the heroine that it was laughable. There was no sense of purpose to any of the carnage and no discernable story, at least to the uninitiated. The original “Resident Evil” at least retained a flavor of the social commentary found in zombie movie classics like “Night of the Living Dead”.

For the third go around, not only has screenwriter/producer Paul W.S. Anderson (“Starship Troopers”) killed off almost the entire population of the planet and brought them back to life as flesh eating zombies, but he seems to have resurrected director Russell Mulcahy (“Highlander”, “The Shadow”) from the dead to helm “Resident Evil: Extinction”. The team also seems to have put a little more thought into this episode. Gone are all the grotesque creatures, save for action sequences at the beginning and end of the film. Yes, there are zombies throughout, but they come across more as part of the post-apocalyptic landscape that the heroes have to navigate to survive rather than a focal point for mindless action.

The Umbrella Corporation is still kicking around in underground bunkers, running experiments on the zombies that their recklessness created. And the few survivors of their virus outbreak must “keep on the move,” in the words of Alice (Milla Jovovich), another escaped Umbrella experiment whose blood holds the key to controlling the zombies. How she knows that normal humans must keep moving to survive is in question, since she is neither “normal”, nor in the company of others who are, at least at first.

A large convoy of normal human survivors is on the move, led by another tough girl, Claire Redfield (Ali Larter, NBC’s “Heroes”). Their caravan looks like something out of “The Road Warrior”, which I suppose is fitting since the midwestern landscape has gone the same way as that post-apocalyptic setting. Claire’s caravan of road warriors is strategically led by a former colleague of Alice’s, Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr, “The Mummy”). Alice and the caravan cross paths in an imaginative sequence that recalls Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Zombie birds are much more interesting that some giant CGI mutant monster.

Meanwhile, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, “The Last Legion”), also returning from “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”, has been busy embracing all the worst qualities of your typical mad scientist. Isaacs—recklessly and against orders—continues his experimentation on zombies, looking for a vaccination that might “domesticate the infected”. He uses a seemingly endless supply of already fully developed adult clones of Alice to procure the serum. Someone needs to point out to the fellow, however, that it shouldn’t be necessary to murder each of the clones in order to draw their blood. In theory, if he didn’t kill each clone in a pointless recreation of the first film’s beginning each time, he would only require one clone from which to draw blood.

There are holes and lapses in logic in just about every crack and crevice of this movie. Hell, many of them are just standing out in the middle of the road waiting to be run over like so many dumb zombies, but I’m willing to accept that logic must take a back seat to the action and to the skimpy, impractical costumes worn by Jovovich. Certainly “Extinction” looks better than either of its predecessors. Mulcahy’s direction is smoother and more dramatic than Anderson’s work, and bringing the action out into the brightly lit desert climate serves it well.

While critics might seem to have a “holier than thou” attitude toward films like “Resident Evil”, I’m still drawn to them for the same basic reasons as their target audience. I just want to have a good time in the theater watching an attractive heroine kicking ass on some frightening monsters. But seeing Milla Jovovich’s perfectly made up face beaming in what ought to be sweltering desert heat isn’t sexy, it’s distracting. What would best serve video game enthusiasts would be putting some hard thought into the development of their movie adaptations, not cheap thrills.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Clive Barker is going to be leading the revolution in that direction if his comments to Ebert are any indication. Follow this link to read some of their discourse.

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