Sunday, September 23, 2007

REVIEW: Resident Evil: Extinction

That the "Resident Evil" movies are actually getting BETTER as it goes on is kind of quaint and alarming at the same time - alarming because you realize that "Extinction," a mostly-solid 'not bad' had two LESSER entries still make enough money to justify it's existence; but quaint simply for the notion that a mini-tentpole action franchise is still being executed at a workmanlike level where trial-and-error/learning-from-mistakes growth is going on organically between sequels. The original entry was simply dreafully, the second hugely entertaining but largely because of it's "whatever" vibe of startling-ineptitude... and now here's number three, a competently-made action/horror/scifi hybrid B-movie in it's own right. If they keep this pace up, in a few more sequels they'll make an entirely good movie.

Loosely following the broad plot-outlines of a long-running series of survival-horror video games, the series revolves around the sinister machinations of The Umbrella Corporation; a biotech conglomerate apparently powerful enough to build massive underground cities for research and keep private satellites in orbit even though the only thing we've been shown that they sell (in jokey ads for the second sequel) are high-tech anti-aging drugs. A chemical component of said drugs called the T-Virus, ostensibly designed to revive dead tissue, wound up doing it's job so well that it's caused a standard-issue Romero-esque zombie outbreak.

The living-dead and other assorted mutants ALSO unleashed by Umbrella's cavalier research overran a subteranean city in #1, a whole city in #2, and now in #3 they've taken over the planet and (somehow) turned it into "Mad Max" land in the span of a few years. Pockets of humanity roam the deserts looking for supplies and trying not to get eaten, while what's left of Umbrella toils safely in their underground shelter as the wicked Dr. Isaacs tries to find a "cure" for zombie-dom - or, rather, since it's Umbrella after all he's mostly trying to "domesticate" them in order to create a slave-race. Umbrella, evidently, got it's biotech feet wet in the conversion of lemons to lemonade. Give it credit where credit is due for finding SOME fresh material in the drained Zombie genre by focusing on the death of a humanity-deprived planet as opposed to the undead hordes.

In any case, Isaacs believes that the key to his 'cure' is the unique blood of series-heroine Alice, (still-stunning Milla Jovovich, again securing her crown as THE queen of B-movie action heroines,) who has been turned into a telekinetic superhuman by Umbrella meddling and now stalks the wasteland doing telekinetic superhuman stuff. When she hooks up with a convoy of human survivors in the ruins of Las Vegas, it puts her back on Umbrella's radar and sets up a confrontation between the good guys, an Umbrella-loosed hit-squad of Barry Bonds juiced zombies and eventually Dr. Isaacs himself - who seems to be going mad(er) with power.

Bad news first: Sorry, game fans, Alice is once again the prime focus and game heroes like Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) do the supporting gig. Things still look a bit on the cheap side, at least for a theatrical film. Mike Epps' annoying, ebonics-spewing caricature from #2 is still hanging around. "Tyrant" isn't nearly as much fun a monster as "Nemesis" was. Someone has made the (baffling) decision that Jovovich's closeups required digital-airbrushing, resulting in odd-looking shifts from shot-to-shot where she switches from being an insanely-gorgeous human to an insanely-gorgeous digital manequin.

Good news: As movies about spectacular-looking women kicking the tar out of zombies go, it doesn't get much better than this. Underrated genre veteran Russell Mulcahy ("Highlander," "Razorback," "The Shadow") is easily the most talented filmmaker to tackle the franchise yet. Larter holds her own and looks great doing it. Oded Fehr, the mas-macho Israeli action guy from "The Mummy" and "Sleeper Cell") is back in an expanded role. "Tyrant" LOOKS a lot less cheezy than "Nemesis" did.

Yes, fine, this is at best a goofy diversion of a movie, "best of the series" and all. Yes, you're going to get a more intellectually-uplifting, spiritually-satisfying experience going to "Eastern Promises" or "In The Valley of Elah." But if diversion of junk-food fun are what strikes your fancy, and you're perhaps not QUITE after the dizzying, mainling-pure-caffeine high of "Dragon Wars" (or you already saw it) this'll probably do it for you.