THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The track record of movies inspired by video games is not very good, and it didn’t improve with Resident Evil in 2002. I have never played the video game series on which the film was based, but I know a guy who is seriously into it. He often complains that the movie “wasn’t true” to the games and “had nothing to do” with them. Months before the arrival of the inevitable sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (or RE2), he was lamenting the fact that “they screwed it up already,” based on a plot synopsis he read online. Of course, whether or not the fans will be happy is up for debate. All I can say is that RE2 is marginally better than the original, but others who are not acquainted with the game will probably feel unimpressed.

The plot details the spread of a virus that turns the residents of Raccoon City into vicious, bloodthirsty zombies. So bad is the problem that the community is quarantined behind large iron gates. The Umbrella Corporation – an evil conglomerate responsible for accidentally unleashing the virus – plans to cover up their mistake by nuking the entire town into oblivion. A small group of humans manage to evade the virus. Their leader is Alice (Milla Jovovich), the heroine of the original film, who has intimate insider knowledge of the Umbrella Corporation.

The scientist who originally created a more benign form of the virus contacts Alice and offers a deal: he will help her and the others escape provided that they can find and rescue his young daughter before the nukes hit. The other members of the team are a maddeningly generic group, including a former Umbrella Corporation security guard (Oded Fehr), a SWAT officer (Sienna Guillory, trying in vein to play a tough chick), and a street hustler (Mike Epps). This last character made me uncomfortable, as it’s an example of the new racism; he’s the only prominent African-American in the film, and he ogles zombie hookers, packs gold plated handguns, talks jive, and uses the word “motherf---er” at every opportunity.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is one of those movies where the non-stop action takes precedence over such things as plot, character development, and logic. Honestly, I wasn’t all that bothered by this fact. After all, the movie is based on a video game – a format in which non-stop action is paramount. Somehow this approach seems to be an example of giving the fans what they want. Because the action was continual, I liked the sequel slightly more than the original. The first Resident Evil left me with too much time to realize how badly it was made; in contrast, RE2 keeps things happening so fast that my mind was generally diverted from any tendency to scrutinize it too closely.

Director Alexander Witt makes his feature debut after years as a second-unit director for Ridley Scott. He seems to have at least learned a few things from his mentor; RE2 is very good at having creatures jump out unexpectedly. The zombified dogs are back and creepier than ever, and there’s a new creature called the Nemesis that is certainly an appealingly horrific creation.

But Witt is still working from a lame script by Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote and directed the original (as well as the recent dud Alien vs. Predator). The screenplay does absolutely nothing new with the zombie genre. Nothing. It simply co-opts every cliché imaginable. There’s a shoot-out in a church. There are loads of zombies who lumber slowly, arms outstretched. There’s a scene in which one of the heroes gets bitten and everyone discusses whether to shoot him now or later. At one point, the movie even rips off the famous garbage chute scene from La Femme Nikita (and its American counterpart Point of No Return) almost shot for shot. A much-needed sense of originality is missing. After umpteen zombie movies over the years, this picture desperately needed something to set it apart. It doesn’t find anything.

I kept flashing back to last spring’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, which had much more energy, style, and invention. Resident Evil: Apocalypse just feels stale and lazy. I like video games too, but game-based movies like this one continue to leave me underwhelmed.

( out of four)

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is rated R for non-stop violence, language and some nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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