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IN SHORT: Redefining slice 'n' dice for about the first 15 minutes or so. [Rated R. 100 minutes]
At last count there were four Resident Evil games with a fifth due any day. Each, we are guessing, has one big "wow" in it, each of which has found its way into the big screen adaptation. These include flesh eating zombies called "the Undead," a pack of mutant Dobermans and one really big, purple monster with a humongous tongue -- "the Licker". Resident Evil, the movie, kicks off with some of the chilling-est killings we've ever seen in a scareflick. Granted, this ain't our preferred kind of movie but we do appreciate its mission statement: the less gore the better. While the overall story requires no knowledge of the game to understand it, a plus in our book, the finished film feels like a serial whose episodes have been stapled together. Scenes with a lot of action and then a quiet moment are followed by a slamming door and a character screaming "They're right behind us!"
But, damn, Resident Evil sure does do its best the thrill and scare the non-initiated. Its production values are top notch and its surround soundtrack is bone rattling but it toploads all the good stuff. Once you get past that stuff, seemingly once the effects budget is expended, Evil heads for dud city.
Past that First Act, only fans of the game -- and we sat in a room full of 'em -- will sit without rolling their eyes. Those fanboys started cackling at the screen for things we could not comprehend, though we didn't get the feeling that we were missing anything significant. When all was said and done those fans got up and left quietly. Perhaps too many hours in front of an electronic screen left them too numb to get all rah rah over a big screen adaptation. Or perhaps no individual writer's creation can ever top the thrills that come with making it up, so to speak, in your own head.
As for the story: On the surface, literally and figuratively, The Umbrella Corporation is a stand up kind of organization. They manufacture high-tech equipment and provide services in the health care field vital to the prosperity of the humans who live in Raccoon City. Deep beneath Raccoon City is a super-secret, high-tech laboratory where the beneficent Umbrella Corporation does its dirtiest work and generates its biggest profits -- as a manufacturer of germ warfare weapons. Its lab, called The Hive, is controlled by a supercomputer nicknamed "Red Queen". As our story begins, it appears to the corporate types on the surface as if the Queen has gone mad, unleashing the virus it created and killing all 500 technicians in The Hive. Who better to send in with the team of commandos meant to clean up the situation than a gorgeous blonde named Alice (Milla Jovovich), suffering from memory loss?
Uh, works for us.
Once our heroes get into The Hive, they discover that the dead aren't really dead . . . they're just really hungry. As in zombie hungry. None too quickly, the members of the team (Colin Salmon, James Purefoy, Michelle Rodriguez) go one on one with the Undead, only to discover later that the merest scratch will infect them and turn them into monsters. Add to that a ticking clock of a deadline -- reset the Red Queen computer within an hour or be trapped inside with the monsters forever -- and you'd have the makings of a great thriller. That is, if the story didn't fall apart as neatly as some of the bodies do when the special effects team gets done with 'em.
Resident Evil has subplots involving what we think is a member of the press trying to infiltrate The Hive, as well as his traitorous contact on the inside as well as one other amnesiac, theoretically Alice's husband, with an agenda of his own. With the exception of the Team Leader (Salmon), who is of African descent, all the men are interchangeable look-alikes That doesn't help the logic of the story
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Resident Evil, he would have paid . . .
Rent it. Would that the second half of the movie were as good as the first. It isn't. It's downright ridiculous and disappointing. We went out to dinner after our screening and in less than 90 minutes we had forgotten almost everything we had seen on screen.
Scratch that. Watching Milla Jovovich in a mini is just about worth the price of the ticket, even if her amnesiac character sways from helpless femme to gun toting firebrand at the first sight of a mutant Doberman -- some of whom she drops with a well placed kick of her black leather boots. Yum.
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