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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Resident Evil: Extinction

When I first heard the title Resident Evil: Extinction I thought someone was planning to off my mother-in-law, which came as a surprise only as I always expected her to go by having a house drop on her from out of the sky. It took a moment before I remembered there was a series of Resident Evil films and this was obviously another one of those. My bad. And too bad. My mother-in-law would have been an obvious choice to star in any of the Resident Evil movies as they are chock full of mutant terrors and if anyone could scare the Hell out of someone it would be her. Even her pre-teen grandchildren refer to her as “The Helenator” as a term of … well, not exactly endearment as much as out of fear and loathing. They were going to call her Godzilla until their father told them that name was copyrighted.

As much as The Helenator would have spiced up Resident Evil: Extinction, it does have its own charms. There is the return of Milla Jovovich (.45) as Alice, the kick ass heroine of all three Resident Evil movies. Milla is delightfully free of any acting talent, but she is thankfully not asked to actually speak many lines or emote much other than to look vaguely mad or constipated, or something in between. Her role primarily requires her to fight, kick, jump, and perform remarkable superhuman feats of agility and marksmanship, so basically all of her “acting” can be controlled by choreographed editing, good direction, stunt work, special effects, wire work, CGI, and great costuming, hair, and make-up. This is not to say that I am picking on Milla. I just don’t think that she contributes much to the films other than a consistent presence. Her ‘Alice’ is the key character, but her ‘Alice’ is not very engaging.

In this chapter, Alice is roaming the Nevada desert alone on her motorcycle, unaware that a nearby underground bunker of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation is using satellite technology to track her down. Alice, for novices of the Resident Evil franchise, is the seemingly last hope for humanity, as her blood carries a natural immunity to the deadly T-Virus which has killed most of the world’s population and turned them into flesh-eating zombies. That’s right, zombies. Again with the zombies. Just once I wish Hollywood would make a movie where people would die and resurrect as disco queens, Sephardic Jews or something more flamboyant than stinky old rotting corpses. It’s so old school it’s not even worth parodying at this point. They could have everybody die and come back as versions of my mother-in-law but that would be too much for the big screen and would probably lead to mass suicide by members of the audience unable to cope with the horror of it all, so instead we deal with the lesser evil of decaying corpses feasting on the living, which is basically like a children’s sanitized view of The Helenator on a good day.

Anyway, the evil Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen; The Last Legion) is hard at work cloning and destroying copies of Alice in a re-creation of the Raccoon City facility from the first Resident Evil. Why he feels it is necessary to put his faux Alices through a series of life-threatening exercises using the machines and mutants of the first two Resident Evil films is unclear other than to remind us of this movie’s connection to its roots, these paces shouldn’t be necessary since Isaacs is supposedly after her blood in order to synthesize the anti-serum for the virus which the Umbrella Corporation released on the world in the first place. Apparently, though, none of his 87 dead Alices (and counting) has proven capable enough and so the man in charge, Albert Wexler (Jason O’Mara: tv’s “In Justice”) orders a platoon sent to bring in the original.

What happens on the surface makes up most of the movie’s action before the ultimate confrontation between Alice and her longtime nemesis Dr. Isaacs, who has by this time undergone his own mutant transformation and become more than one might have expected. Before then, though, Alice, like her namesake from the Lewis Carroll books, meets up with old friends Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr; tv’s “Sleeper Cell”) and LJ (Mike Epps; Talk to Me) from Resident Evil: Apocalypse (talk about a small world!) and soon joins a caravan of survivors led by hottie redhead Claire Redfield (Ali Larter; tv’s “Heroes”). Along with other characters just crying out “victim-in-the-making” like K-Mart ( Spencer Locke; Monster House) and Betty (singer Ashanti), they travel to Las Vegas in search of gas and hookers. Okay, I threw the last part in to see if you were paying attention, but they do need gas, and where else to best use a cheesy set of Vegas landmarks than in the middle of a movie going nowhere fast? Even with the lame excuse that “the desert has taken it back” as an explanation for why Vegas is more or less gone, it doesn’t explain why a select number of hotel icons remain and yet there are no background ruins, cars, homes, or anything else. Not that I’m a stickler for this sort of thing, but I lived in Vegas for years, and I was looking forward for more devastation. I wanted to see my old university in tatters. Whatever. Anybody who has ever seen a horror movie knows that sets like these can mean only one thing ~ something’s going to jump out of somewhere unexpectedly and at least one person in the audience is going to go all water cannon in his or her pants. Just try not to be the one.

Overall, this chapter in the Resident Evil saga is fairly standard in what audiences have come to expect from the previous films. Its biggest drawback is in marketing it as the “final” installment of a trilogy as it does not tie up loose ends nor does it result in a compelling and satisfying ending. Instead, we are left with many new characters to wonder about, especially Claire and her rag tag group of survivors as well as an army of would-be Alice clones and Alice herself. Jovovich has said she was not going to ever make another Resident Evil film. If so, then she ends on a hollow note because Alice’s story is not finished by any means.

I’m certainly not advocating for another Resident Evil any more than I’d ask my monster-in-law to spend a Vermont winter snowed in with me in a cabin full of knives and no food, but I do think the fans deserve a definitive resolution to this epic gore-fest rather than to let it simply end with a whimper and a guess of what may happen off-screen. I’m no fan of Milla’s wooden acting, but the gal owes us a true ending. There is no “Extinction” as promised in the title (other than to a number of individual characters a la any zombie flick). Next time I want the filmmakers to mean it.

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