by Craig Thomas
I have a confession. The Resident Evil movies fascinate me. Now, I am not saying they are good. In fact, they are terrible in every single regard. Yet they are massive, massive hits. That shouldn’t be too surprising, seeing as they have an in-built and continually regenerating fan-base (the sixth installment of the computer game franchise came out this year). Even so, after four of the things you would have thought people would have caught on.
But I am part of the problem. I have seen all of them. Without doubt, each one should have been a nail in the career of Paul W. S. Anderson. In fact, they’re just the opposite, whatever that is symbolized by. Let me make it clear for those who don’t know:
He is a terrible film-maker.
By now you might have guessed that I do not like the work of Paul W. S. Anderson, or of the Resident Evil films. You would be correct. Yet I cannot look away. In fact, I go hunting them out, similar to the sexual deviants looking for car crashes in David Cronenberg’s brilliantly twisted adaptation of the J. G. Ballard novel, Crash. I am like that. But without the sexual deviancy, obviously.
If you have ever seen one of his films, you would know that, unlike his (not really) namesake, Paul Thomas Anderson, he does not know how to deal with actors. Whilst the latter can get a great performance of out pretty much anyone, getting someone to “phone it in” in Resident Evil would be something of an achievement.
But there is something about the Resident Evil franchise and the influence of Paul W. S. Anderson that makes the whole experience poisonous to the creative spirit. It’s bizarre, because at times it is less convincing than watching the CGI cut-scenes from when the game was first released back in 1996. It’s like he has tried to transpose directly from the game to the screen.
Perhaps it is all down to the writing, which is abhorrent. The dialogue is clunky and patronizing, and everything in the relatively straight-forward plot is explained, often twice. PWSA has written all five of them, but directed only three, so it would seem this to be the most common factor. But having written and directed Resident Evil: Retribution, all the blame falls on him.
So having seen the fifth one, is there any difference between it and the others? In a word, no. The dialogue is awful and the acting is worse. The story is stupid and the characters are unbelievable.
In this particular installment they are trapped in an old Soviet submarine base which has been modified by the evil Umbrella Corporation. Thanks to the miracle of cloning, all the old characters return, though not necessarily with the same personalities. The rest of the plot is pretty much just an excuse for jumping, shooting and generally blowing stuff up. The film basically takes the plot full circle, back to the first installment, but this time on a global scale.
It is remarkable how after five films, nothing has improved. Not a single thing. It isn’t even so-bad-its-good awful, it is just plain awful. Yet I cannot stop watching to see how ridiculous it is going to get. By the end of the franchise I think I am going to use up the global supply of exasperation.
I think the best thing about the whole franchise is the fact that each film ends on a cliff-hanger, which is a cheap way to get you excited about the next one, and there is always a next one. But it kind of becomes like at the end of a TV series, which you watch out of habit just to see what happens, rather than gaining any enjoyment out of it.
“What’s the second best thing about the franchise?” I hear you ask. It’s brevity. They all last about 90 minutes, which is just about long enough for them to not outstay their welcome. I think this is part of the reason for their success and part of the reason I can tolerate this nonsense. This is supported by the fact that I am physically incapable of sitting through one of the Michael Bay monstrosities that regularly push the three hour mark.
But for everything, the biggest crime committed here is that the idea itself is not a bad one. I like to see sexy women killing hideous monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as much as the next guy (ie a lot), but having it done in such a relentlessly awful manner really spoils an opportunity to do something interesting and entertaining and profitable. They have just gone for profitable.
So yeah, if you’ve seen any of the others then you already know whether or not you will like this one. As for me, despite everything, I can’t wait until the next one, sadly.
by Steve Habrat
Don’t hate me for telling you this, but I actually sort of enjoy Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 big screen adaptation of Resident Evil. Based upon the wildly popular Capcom horror/shooter video game, Resident Evil is a surprisingly entertaining and slightly creepy Night of the Living Dead for Mountain Dew fanatics and die-hard Alien fans. With plenty of guns, zombies, entrails, explosions, and chicks with barely any clothing, Resident Evil is a total guy flick that doesn’t ask too much of the viewer, only that you have a good time and don’t hate yourself in the morning for it. In a way, that is the main problem with Resident Evil, that it doesn’t think too highly of its target audience. Resident Evil has plenty to work with within its sinister corporation premise but it happily ignores this for an hour and forty minutes. It relentlessly misses opportunities to make heady comments about how big corporations deviously enslave us, but instead, it would rather show you Milla Jovovich nude or a zombie get its head blow to smithereens. I guess the blood and flesh show is more fun than the one that makes us think. But what did you expect from a movie that is based on a video game?
Welcome to Raccoon City, a futuristic metropolis that is controlled by the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical and houseware company that is also secretly developing a slew of biological weapons underneath the city. This underground development facility is called the Hive and it is here that a thief has infiltrated the seemingly impenetrable facility and unleashed the mysterious T-virus. In response to the contamination, the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, quickly begins trying to quarantine the virus and kill off all the Hive employees who were exposed to the virus. Just hours after the slaughter, the Umbrella Corporation sends down a small team of commandos led by James “One” Shade (Played by Colin Salmon) and Rain Ocampo (Played by Michelle Rodriguez) to investigate. Along the way, these commandos meet up with amnesiacs Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), Spence (Played by James Purefoy), and suspicious cop Matt (Played by Eric Mabius). As the group pushes further into the ravaged underground facility, they begin to be attacked by endless swarms of undead drones that crave human flesh. As the group’s battle to stay alive becomes more and more desperate, the undead ghouls stalking them through the tunnels turn out to be the least of their worries.
Director Anderson uses Resident Evil to make a surprisingly effective nod to George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Interestingly enough, Romero was originally approached to make the film but he left the project due to creative differences. Anderson, however, keeps the film’s scope small, with swarms of ghouls attacking in narrow hallways and trashed offices, which heightens the terror to nearly unbearable levels. Things really get spooky when the group seals themselves into a computer room as the ghouls bang on the doors around them. He also has the sense to slowly build up to the first zombie attack with plenty of squirm-inducing suspense. Then he boldly kills off half the macho characters to make room for two seriously tough gals who pack mean drop kicks. Despite some iffy performances from the B-squad of actors, Resident Evil manages to really make an ominous impression in its first forty minutes. Sadly, once Anderson nudges the zombies to the side and unleashes the hulking mutant experiment nicknamed “The Licker”, things begin to spin wildly out of control. Anderson then piles on tons of poor CGI and disordered action that completely demolishes the smart touches he applied at the beginning of the film. You’ll reluctantly give in to his overkill and just go with the flow as the fake blood relentlessly splashes across the screen.
Another shock that comes out of Resident Evil is the fact that, while it may not be Oscar worthy, the acting is still surprisingly decent for a movie based on a video game. Jovovich is easily the best as the tough-as-nails amnesiac Alice, a chick who can throw down with the best of them. Anderson spends more time trying to photograph her bare breasts than he does focusing on the performance in front of him but Jovovich comes out of the project okay. Rodriguez plays the same role she always plays, a badass with her face scrunched up into a testy grimace. Salmon gets to channel Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones but he looks like a sissy compared to Jovovich and Rodriguez. Purefoy is pretty stiff and is basically asked to just play worried before a last act character twist that has him sparking to life. Mabius is severely inconsistent the entire time, which is a shame because his character is one that is front and center. Another standout is Martin Crewes as Kaplan, a spooked computer expert who is exceptional at conveying the sickened I-didn’t-sign-up-for-this face when the zombies stumble out of the dark.
To match Resident Evil’s industrial horror aesthetic, Anderson enlisted shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, to compose the score for the film. With the help of Marco Beltrami, Manson delivers a burst of moody synths, shrill drumming, and bawling guitars that would sound much better in a headphones than in a Hollywood motion picture. At times, the score is unbelievably distracting, removing us from the moment and drowning out what little story there actually is. Still, Manson manages to compliment this industrial rot of the set quite well so I suppose he succeeds. Anderson also makes some questionable choices in the editing department, preferring to cut away just when the action was getting good. For the zombie fans out there, the ghouls are perfectly modest, just looking dead enough without getting carried away. There are not tons of elaborate wounds on every single zombie that stumbles in front of the camera but there are a few injuries that you will remember. The rest of the action is exactly what you would expect from an action film made in the wake of The Matrix, with multiple slow motion shots of the gals flipping through the air. Overall, Resident Evil’s first half is much stronger than its second half, but the film as a whole is a solid horror distraction that ranks as one of the better video-game-to-film adaptations out there.
Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If you thought that 2004’s The Punisher was a pretty lousy movie, wait until you see Lexi Alexander’s 2008 redo Punisher: War Zone, an abomination that manages to make the first one look like an Academy Award contender. Trimming off all the emotional weight from the first film (there wasn’t much to begin with but at least there was some), Punisher: War Zone ends up resembling a Saw movie crossed with a forgotten 80’s shoot-‘em-up. While The Punisher isn’t exactly a family friendly hero, there is still no excuse for the relentless bloodshed and depravity that we have in War Zone. Furthermore, there is no excuse why there isn’t more depth to the character of Frank Castle, the vigilante in the black bulletproof vest with a big, white skull plastered across it. The only reason to even consider watching War Zone is to check out Doug Hutchison’s performance as Loony Bin Jim, a deranged lunatic who maims first and then asks questions later. You certainly don’t consider this film based of Ray Stevenson’s utterly blah performance as Castle, the most robotic vigilante ever to blast his way across the screen.
Frank Castle (Played by Ray Stevenson) has been prowling the New York City streets for almost five years as The Punisher. Heavily armed and extremely dangerous, this ex-military man hunts down and dispatches criminals in the most brutal ways imaginable. One evening, Frank storms the home of mob boss Gaitano Cesare and manages to massacre every gangster inside except for Billy Russoti (Played by Dominic West), a testy enforcer obsessed with his looks. Castle sets out after the escaped gangster at his recycling plant hideout. Castle blasts his way through the plant and in the process, he ends up killing an undercover FBI agent and horribly disfiguring Billy. After discovering his mistake, Castle decides that he is quitting his life as a vigilante. Meanwhile, Billy has reconstructive surgery on his face, leaving him a mug that resembles a jigsaw puzzle. Billy takes the name “Jigsaw” and sets out to free his insane brother Loony Bin Jim (Played by Doug Hutchison) from a mental institution so the duo can track down The Punisher together and destroy him once and for all.
A good bulk of War Zone is devoted to nonstop brutality and carnage. Screenwriters Nick Santora, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway try to wave off the mindless violence by forcing the abrasive characters to wink at the audience and act like cartoons. I thought this was supposed to be a raw and gritty interpretation? Then we have The Punisher himself, a real snoozer of a hero. Stevenson tries to play Castle/The Punisher as the strong silent type who communicates through a distant gaze at the person in front of him. He visits the graves of his deceased family where he scrubs mold and dirt off the headstones while seething with anger. In fight scenes, he is a scowling bad ass who chops, hacks, slashes, and shoots his way through a seemingly never-ending army of gangsters who all bleed buckets when The Punisher shoots a hole through them. We never really get a glimpse inside Frank, the only emotion coming from his anger over the accidental death of the undercover FBI agent. Frank attempts to reach out to the fallen agent’s family, who is being hunted by the deranged Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim. We are just supposed to accept that the death of his family shook Castle from warm family man into cold-blooded monster. Don’t think about it too much.
War Zone doesn’t really fair any better in the supporting good guys or villains department. Colin Salmon shows up as a tough-as-concrete cop Paul Budiansky, the man looking to bring The Punisher to justice. Somehow, Paul is able to hold himself in a bone crunching battle with Frank, something that was just utterly absurd. Dash Mihok is aboard as Paul’s partner Martin Soap, who is along for the ride as comic relief that is never very funny. Wayne Knight enters the mix as Frank’s completely underused partner Micro, the man who supplies Frank with all of his guns and ammo. Julie Benz is also underused as Angela, the fallen FBI agent’s widow who always manages to be a hysterical damsel in distress, even when she isn’t in distress. Then there is Dominic West as Billy/Jigsaw, the vicious enforcer who speaks in the worst Italian accent ever. An ugly son of a gun, Jigsaw speaks like he has a mouth full of mush as he demands that local street gangs fight back against The Punisher. There is a side plot that involves a biological weapon that you think will come into play but it never does, which is downright baffling to me. The only one really who shows up to have a good time is Hutchinson’s Loony Bin Jim, who gets all the best moments of War Zone. The highlight of the film is when he gets to beat up on our hero. As he delivers each blow to The Punisher, he explains the severity of the injury. It is the only sequence that boasts strong writing, creativity, and depraved fun.
As War Zone barrels towards the finish line, the film starts to resemble a stomach churning car wreck that you just can’t stop staring at even though you so desperately want to turn away and vomit. You will also be reaching for the Advil to relive the throbbing migraine that the film surely will cause. War Zone ends up turning into an unyielding, tasteless blur of heavy metal, terrible lighting, and reckless direction. The plotline becomes such a mess that you can’t even begin to figure out how the people behind the camera are going to tie it all up. The only relief that we find is Hutchison, who really brings the crazy to this horrorshow. Even worse, Alexander can’t decide if she wants this film to be a horror movie or an exercise in exploitation. Somewhere out there in Hollywoodland, someone has a good story for The Punisher but it seems that the suits out there just haven’t found that person yet. I hope they find that person quick because this character is barely clinging to life in the cinema realm. And let’s hope they don’t invite back the lifeless Stevenson.
Punisher: War Zone is available on Blu-ray and DVD.