Review: Resident Evil: Extinction
Poor Alice. She keeps waking up wet, naked and alone. When last we saw her, she was escaping from a top-secret medical research facility with four other survivors of a nuclear "accident" that destroyed the fictional Raccoon City. Actually, an evil scientist employed by the multinational Umbrella Corporation allowed the group to leave so he could activate a secret program implanted in dear Alice.
Watching Resident Evil: Extinction, the third installment in a series inspired by the video game, made me wish that I had a secret program implanted in me that would allow me to watch the movie in fast forward mode. Whereas the first installment in the series had a pleasant degree of kooky, claustrophobic atmosphere, and the second (Resident Evil: Apocalypse) had the virtue of non-stop action sequences -- even if the action was often silly and indecipherable visually -- Extinction has no such saving grace.
The first two films also had the benefit of lovely supporting distractions, in the persons of sexy fighting femme butt-kickers Michelle Rodriguez (in the first) and Sienna Guillory (in the second). Alas, Extinction completely wastes Ali Larter, who is reduced to striding around purposefully and acting compassionate as the leader of a group of survivors. This ain't Heroes, folks. Milla Jovovich previously appeared to revel in her unlikely role as Alice, a supremely efficient killing machine, but here she pouts and frowns and labors under the weight of tons of pancake makeup affixed to her face, to what purpose or intent I do not know.
Extinction picks up with Alice awakening and dying in short order. Of course, she's not really dead -- it's a clone of Alice, the latest in a long line of attempts by the Umbrella Corporation to find a cure for the deadly T-Virus they unleashed upon mankind. The virus reanimates dead cells and thus brings the dead back to life. Thought to be contained by the intentional nuclear destruction of Raccoon City, once again the T-Virus somehow escaped and spread throughout the world, turning mankind into zombies and the Earth into a vast wasteland.
Survivors remain, of course, or we wouldn't have a sequel. Alice stalks the desert as a lone wolf, still displaying her acrobatic killing skills when needed. Two of her fellow survivors, faithful Olivera (Oded Fehr) and fast talking L.J. (Mike Epps), have joined a caravan led by Claire, the aforementioned Larter. (The other two survivors, tough cop Valentine and scientist's daughter Angie, are nowhere to be seen and no explanation is offered for their absence. Perhaps the actresses who played them have agents who got them better gigs.) The caravan has about 40 members, including a number of children, who scavage rural towns and search for other survivors. But the real purpose of the caravan is to offer up a whole mess of anonymous sacrificial lambs, thus allowing the filmmakers to drive up the body count in the early going.
One of the great yawning problems with the premise of the story is that it takes place in the day time in the southwestern desert. Think about that. Desert equals huge, open spaces where you can see for miles. Zombies walk very, very slow. Where's the tension in that? Extinction sidesteps that central dilemma by having Alice tricked into entering a building thinking there are survivors inside, only to have them turn loose a pack of demon dogs on her just to watch her die horribly. Later, a tremendous flock of infected zombie crows appear from out of nowhere to dive bomb the caravan, kill schoolchildren, and allow L.J.'s new love interest to sacrifice herself for no apparent reason -- unless it was because Ashanti, who plays the part, really wanted to be in a zombie film, but only had a limited time frame to appear in the movie. Still later, aggressive, fast-moving zombies are imported (evidently from 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead) so as to thin the cast down to a manageable size for the conclusion.
If you're worried about the possible depiction of children being eaten alive by zombie crows or zombie humans, do not fear. The action is shot in prototypical modern style, so you're never really sure who's being attacked by what. It's only by watching the next scene that you know for certain which characters survived the previous scene. We see gallons of blood flying off faces and bodies, but very little explicit footage of body violence -- and much of that is very obviously CGI. Sadly, Russell Mulcahy's direction is now indistinguishable from that of any other hack. The flair he once brought to Highlander, or some of his early music videos, is long gone.
More worrisome is the continued wholesale plunder of ideas from George A. Romero's work, this time from Day of the Dead. The Umbrella Corporation maintains secret facilities deep underground in the southwestern desert. Above ground, there is only a house surrounded by a chain link fence. Thousands of zombies from hundreds of miles around -- clearly existing only on the hard drives of computers -- are attracted to the compound, growling and shaking the fence. Sound familiar? Get this -- the evil Umbrella scientists now think they can domesticate the zombies. Extinction even has a scene with a placated zombie being handed a phone and demonstrating what to do with it, etc. I'm surprised they didn't call the zombie in that scene "Bub" and complete the rip-off borrowing from Day of the Dead.
Considering the basic 'mankind eaten by zombies' scenario, I was a little surprised by the product placement. The world may be ending, but, fortunately, Sony products are still working.
I watched Resident Evil: Apocalypse again recently and, contrary to majority opinion, I think it holds up as a decent diversion, especially if you're a fan of the Hong Kong "girls with guns" action movies of the 1980s and early 1990s. (OK, it's a pale imitation, but still ...) If you're in the majority, though, and felt Apocalypse was truly bad, there is absolutely no reason to check out Extinction. Actually, even if you loved Apocalypse, there is no need to watch Extinction. I'm trying to be objective and fair, but I'm coming up empty on why anyone would enjoy the film.
The closing credits feature a new version of Jefferson Airplane's 1960s psychedelic drug song, "Go Ask Alice." The literal-minded usage of the song sums up the bland aesthetic of Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed the first Resident Evil and has written all three films. As Anderson continues to clone his scripts ad infinitum, whatever spark of originality that may have once existed in his work has been completely extinguished.
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