Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Resident Evil: Afterlife" Review

Paul W.S. Anderson directs what are essentially the world’s most expensive fan films. A juvenile genre-meister, he indulges likeminded audiences to the best of his meager ability. He may have better intentions than a Michael Bay, or less pretention than a Zack Snyder, but he has none of either’s cinematic audacity, and that’s even worse. He has grandiose ideas, but not the slightest clue how to achieve them.

So instead, he swills a bland pastiche that passes from the eyes directly to the cerebral outbox. Sitting through “Resident Evil: Afterlife” evokes an atmosphere of weightless detachment, especially from his characters, who are human beings only in the physiological sense of the term. You also feel a sort of sleepy sympathy for Anderson himself, who’s trying too hard to be cool, and stretching himself beyond his means in the process.

But my sympathy for the man dead-ends there; “Afterlife” is plain bad. When you get to the fourth film in a franchise like “Resident Evil,” inspiration has less to do with innovative story than it does untapped locations. “Where in the World is Milla Jovovich?” more or less describes the creative process, and this week she’s in a jail and on a boat along the California coastline, where she meets yet another readymade team of post-apocalyptic survivors, and uncovers yet another marginal scientific abomination from the Umbrella Corporation.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m biased. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t seen either of the middle two “Resident Evils,” but the shit-sandwich formed by parts one and four make me more than a little suspicious of what’s in between. Mostly, however, I take issue with Anderson because as a fan of the video games, I know exactly what he had to work with, and exactly where he came up short: everywhere. He doesn’t get it; the influence of “Night of the Living Dead” on the games of is obvious, yet his adaptations bear more resemblance to “The Matrix” than anything. He might as well have remade “Silent Hill” as a musical.

However, like me, the studio granted him another opportunity based on two measly characters: “3D.” In a ceaselessly underwhelming film, one of the biggest disappointments of all is how underwhelming the use of said technology is. Anderson employs it as neither an over-the-top spectacle nor for subtle immersion. The effect is merely there, underutilized and as quickly forgotten as the images themselves.

And Anderson is just warming up in the disappointment department. What quickly becomes apparent in “Afterlife” is that he’s incapable of or uninterested in self-improvement. In fact, if anything, my distant memory of his original film outshines this unnecessary addition to the over-dead franchise. Each of his lame action sequences is still gaudily accentuated by the usual suspects of technical gimmickry: slow-motion acrobatics, bullet-time, and of course, plenty of emo-rock accompaniment. And that's brilliant in comparison to the clunky, ugly, lifeless expository scenes that divide them. He's a filmmaker I can’t even advise to play to his strengths.

Still, I have no doubt that Anderson has a genuine passion for the properties he ruins. Flourishes from the latest “Resident Evil” videogame in “Afterlife” are proof that the writer/director is first and foremost a fan—And that’s exactly his problem. Anderson is delivering disposable fan service, a hodgepodge of inarticulate regurgitation, rather than a proper adaptation. With complete disregard for the intents of the original artists, he flagrantly reappropriates their work for his own silly operas.

That stuff may fly at comic con, where everybody knows you did it in your basement with a couple buddies—But when a major studio sinks sixty million dollars on it, it just seems like a waste of money and everybody’s time.


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