(by Dustin Putman
Bar none, the "Resident Evil" films—2002's "Resident Evil," 2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," and 2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction"—have been pale, uninspired adaptations of the popular, dread-drenched Capcom video game series, heavy on action and gunfire but severely lacking in the true horror and atmosphere emanating from its source material. Indeed, it wouldn't be surprising if some past viewers forgot they were even watching movies about virus-infected zombies taking over the world. With the first two pictures thoroughly generic and curiously bloodless, the third film proved to be a step forward thanks to its creative Vegas locations and late plot developments that nevertheless didn't go far enough in taking advantage of either. For the fourth entry, "Resident Evil: Afterlife" hops on the tedious 3-D bandwagon and picks up the original's writer-director, Paul W.S. Anderson (2008's "Death Race"), along the way. Neither helps the cause. The film is so concerned most of the time with handling the technologically advanced camera—the same one that was apparently used for 2009's "Avatar," actually—and servicing this new format that not a thought was given to essentials such as story, character and suspense. Article continues below
Following an attack on the Umbrella Corporation Headquarters in Tokyo that ends with her hundreds of clones going up in flames along with the building and nefarious employees, Alice (Milla Jovovich) stows away on Umbrella boss Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) plane and is promptly injected with a serum that takes away her super powers and gives her back her mortality. Following a crash she walks away from unscathed, Alice heads for Arcadia, Alaska, the one place on earth that is supposed to be a safe haven from the world's zombie takeover. It is here that she reteams with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), mysteriously stricken with amnesia, and gets her hopes dashed about finally finding a place of salvation amidst the apocalypse. In searching for remaining signs of life, their travels ultimately lead them to an undead-filled Los Angeles where a ragtag crew of survivors—including Claire's brother Chris (Wentworth Miller)—are holed up in a prison facility, desperately needing rescue.
Like its predecessors, "Resident Evil: Afterlife" completely and hopelessly botches the foreboding tone of the video game series on which it is based. More of the same, only able to more quickly wear one's patience thin, the film drowns in its own terminal laziness. Even when heads are being chopped off and subpar CGI blood is spurting about, there is an antiseptic feel to the picture that goes against what should be gritty, raw and merciless. Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson hasn't a clue how to build tension, create a palpable sense of threat, or generate scares. He barely shows any interest at all in the horror genre, instead favoring decade-old action movie conventions to move things forward. Particularly egregious are the slow-motion bullet-time effects stolen wholesale from "The Matrix" and repeated over and over to the point of nausea. If that weren't enough, the amount of weapons thrown at the screen—a too-frequently-used gimmick of the 3-D format—could stock an entire army.
If there is a good idea to be found in the script, it is the decision to revert butt-kicking heroine Alice back to her human self; this helps to make her more identifiable. Otherwise, things are hopeless almost from the start. When Alice mentions early on that she is going to fly down the coast, stopping along the way in Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, the viewer eagerly awaits for this to show up on screen. Instead, writer-director Anderson skips all that and decides to set the bulk of the film in boring old Los Angeles. If that weren't snooze-worthy enough, he foregoes an intriguing exploration of the zombie-crawling city for scene after scene set indoors, the one-note, instantly forgettable ensemble of characters going through the dull paces on dull soundstages. Narrative momentum is akin to a sputtering jalopy. Pacing is slow even when things are getting blown up real good. Surprises, alas, are kept to none.
By now, Milla Jovovich (2009's "The Fourth Kind") could play the part of Alice in her sleep, and she has so little substance to work with it's a great feat that she doesn't do just that. Her personality is a no-nonsense one—when she sneaks in a smile near the end, it's enough to take the viewer aback—and really all she is asked to do is look cool running around firing guns. With her dutifully doing next to nothing, a couple solitary moments stand out that show what could have been. The first is a scene where Alice investigates a creaky opened door to a helicopter—amazing how such a small, subtle element can prove so much more effective than an onslaught of impersonal firepower and chintzy CGI overload—and the other is the too-brief but momentarily invigorating use of a new mega-sized villain known as Axeman (Ray Olubowale), a ratty, nondescript execution mask over his head putting the impressive finishing touch on his aesthetic appearance. Really, though, these minor positive notices are like grasping at straws. "Resident Evil: Afterlife" brings nothing of note to the table as it once again empty-headedly wastes its premise and everyone's time. It's boring. It's derivative. It's chaotic. It's a franchise that's been running on fumes for eight years. With this entry, the fuel gauge has finally hit empty.