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May 13, 2006 | Comments ()


Wake Me When It's Over

Resident Evil: Apocalypse / Jeremy C. Fox

Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()


Fans of the “Resident Evil” video games or the first film may be able to enjoy Resident Evil: Apocalypse, but it’s difficult to imagine how. The film has no characters, careless pacing, and a convoluted and implausible plotline. The story is set in Raccoon City, a fictional metropolis (obviously) with only one major entrance point and a conveniently pre-existing set of barriers that allows it to be entirely walled off in the event that its entire populace were to become zombified (that’s why they did it in Troy, too). The city is apparently ruled by an evil conglomerate, the Umbrella Corporation, which runs a giant underground biotech laboratory call the Hive, where they’ve developed a virus that reanimates the dead as flesh-eating zombies, though it has some useful purposes as well. The virus is accidentally unleashed on all the little Raccoons down in Raccoonville and the city is shut down, leaving a few hero-types to shoot their way out. Oh, and there’s a superhuman killing machine who looks a bit like the Elephant Man in a low-cut leather dress. Got all that?

I’ve never played the video games, but I assume the name “Raccoon City” is taken from them, though why the filmmakers found this act of fidelity necessary I can’t guess. They seem unfazed by its inanity, though, as they work it in every chance they get: in the name of the local TV news broadcast, the city hospital, The Raccoon City Times, or printed on the spine of a phonebook. At one point, the heroes pass a truck marked “Raccoon Police Department K-9 Unit,” suggesting an amusing inversion of the natural order.

The director, Alexander Witt, is at the helm of his first film after a 25-year apprenticeship as a camera operator, director of photography, and second-unit director. One might think that after all that time he would have developed a particular visual style to impose upon his directorial debut. One would be wrong. The film borrows the breakneck editing style of the first installment’s director (and this one’s writer/producer), Paul W.S. Anderson. At a few points during the movie, I tried counting the seconds that a single shot would last. The longest I found was 20 seconds, and that was a crane shot that moved through a considerable portion of landscape. The camera at times tilts on a diagonal for no discernable reason, the images are repetitive and carelessly lit, and major fight scenes are so murky and abruptly cut that it’s difficult to tell what’s going on at all.

There’s no time wasted introducing the cast; in fact there’s one hero-person whose name I wasn’t sure of until the epilogue. It’s just as well that we aren’t asked to care about them or think of them as characters, though, as their “performances” would certainly undo whatever the writing might have tried to accomplish. The “acting” consists mostly of dipping one’s chin and sternly looking out from beneath a slightly furrowed brow. Of course, how vivid a dramatic performance can one give when one is busy battling zombies while wearing a constricting bustier?

What little dialogue there is consists of exchanges such as this:

Valentine: “Those were some pretty slick moves back there. I’m good, but I’m not that good.”
Alice: “You should be thankful. They did something to me. I barely feel human anymore.”

Touching.

Given this level of writing, and the fact that the cast mostly seems heavily sedated, it stands to reason that any performance with a little life in it would walk off with the show. That performance comes from Mike Epps, as Lord Jefferson Wayne (“You can call me L.J. on account of the informal situation.”), a blinged-out street hustler (he carries gold-plated .9 mm pistols), who, in another movie, I might dismiss as a silly racist stereotype. Here, though, it’s so refreshing to see a little bit of humor or energy that it hardly matters that it’s unoriginal or insulting.

There is one genuinely creepy scene toward the end, when the cast is attacked by zombie dogs. For once, these are real dogs—not CGI—angry-looking Dobermans, and their attack was realistic and genuinely frightening. Two minutes of excitement, however, are little compensation for an hour and a half of tedium. And that’s the real problem with this movie. For all its violence and fast cutting and the tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition used, it’s just plain boring. There’s no reason to care about the cast, the things that are supposed to be visually exciting are blah, and the plot meanders all over the place but never goes anywhere original or interesting. I can forgive a lot, but a horror/sci-fi/action thriller should never make me sleepy.

Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.

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