Resident Evil

Resident Evil

UK/Germany/USA, 2002. Rated R. 100 minutes.

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Colin Salmon, Marisol Nichols, Heike Makatsch, Joseph May, Michaela Dicker
Writers: Paul W.S. Anderson
Music: Marco Beltrami
Cinematographer: David Johnson
Producers: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson


Grade: C- Review by Carlo Cavagna

From the official Resident Evil site:

A secret experiment…a deadly virus…a fatal mistake… Something terrible is lurking in the Hive, a vast underground genetic research facility run by the Umbrella Corporation, a faceless bio-engineering conglomerate. A deadly viral outbreak occurs, and in response, the Red Queen--a vast supercomputer that controls and monitors the Hive--seals the entire facility to contain the leak, killing all the trapped employees.

Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) must lead fellow commandos to isolate the virus that has wiped out Umbrella's entire research staff. Alice and the military task force have three hours to complete their mission…

…blah blah blah. Forget it. Here is all you need to know about Resident Evil: 1) It's a zombie movie. 2) It's based on a video game.

I could be lazy and just re-run my review of John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars. Like Ghosts, Resident Evil is a not-quite-competent action/horror movie masquerading as science fiction. Like Ghosts, it's got a female protagonist and even uses a similar train. But that comparison is not entirely fair to Ghosts of Mars. What Ghosts has that Resident Evil does not is a healthy awareness of its own silliness. Resident Evil is just not campy enough.

Let's review the basic elements of a zombie movie:

    1. The dead have come back to life!
    2. They are slow-moving and cheesy looking.
    3. They're contagious.
    4. They're hungry.
    5. There's an awful lot of them.

Milla JovovichThe classics of the genre are, of course, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Also notable are Lucio Fulci's Italian exports, Zombie and City of the Living Dead. Call them "spaghetti horror."

Now, let's review the basic elements of a computer game.

    1. See monster.
    2. Kill monster.
    3. Repeat.

Combine the above elements, and you have the blueprint for Resident Evil.

The thankless task of starring in this movie falls upon Milla Jovovich (The Messenger, The Fifth Element), Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight, The Fast and the Furious), Eric Mabius (Cruel Intentions, The Crow: Salvation), James Purefoy (A Knight's Tale, Mansfield Park), and Colin Salmon (The World Is Not Enough, Tomorrow Never Dies). Salmon's the black dude, so he's in trouble from the get-go. Rodriguez proved in Girlfight that she's better than this, but I suppose you have to take any payday you're offered when you're not yet established.

As for Jovovich, she is just not much of an actor, but she'll always find work, because the camera adores her. Jovovich certainly isn't shy about showing off what she's got. The sight of her kicking zombie butt is incongruous, though. She looks more robust than in her Calvin Klein days, but she doesn't have the physique of a national aerobics and fitness champion, which is what you'd expect from a deadly special forces commando. Despite the generous near-nudity, it's Jovovich's face—her liquid blue eyes and refined, angular Vulcan features—that imprints itself on the brain. She really should play a Vulcan…take note, Star Trek people.

The man responsible for Resident Evil is Paul W.S. Anderson. The "W.S." stands for "not Thomas." This Anderson, a Brit, began a promising genre movie career with the campy Mortal Kombat (one of the first videogame adaptations), and following it with the underrated Event Horizon—a brilliantly atmospheric horror movie until it falls apart in the last act. Then came the humorless Soldier. In Anderson's defense, Resident Evil isn't unrelentingly tedious like Soldier, the production design is more stylish than Ghosts, and the film boasts a handful of well-crafted action set pieces. Anderson avoids the jarring short-attention-span editing that is so popular in action movies today. Not that the film is always edited well—some scenes are so disconnected that it's difficult to understand how they're supposed to fit together to form a plot...assuming there is one.

The film fails not because of Anderson's shortcomings as a director, though, but because of superficial writing. Sure, it's based on a videogame. That doesn't mean that the film also has to rely on a skeletal backstory and predictable character arcs. Lethally, the film lacks a sense of fun—there isn't even any quotable dialogue. Resident Evil is best left to diehard fans of zombie movies and the game.

Review © March 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 Screen Gems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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