I can't say I remember what exactly happened in the first two Resident Evil movies, other than I watched them and didn't dislike them enough to take a pass on Resident Evil: Extinction, a potential trilogy capper or, more likely, part three of five or eight. This series, based on a popular videogame, is one of those second-tier franchises that, in a sneaky and undemanding way, can be more enjoyable than its classier counterparts. It's also the kind of franchise lacking the faux dignity to pretend that three is a magic number.Russell Mulcahy
, the newest director in the fold, knows from exhaustible cult franchises, having made the original Highlander. Mulcahy is probably the best director to ever attempt a Resident Evil movie, and he gives the film a more polished look than its predecessors. Mulcahy isn't exactly an original stylist, but the action is coherent and sometimes even striking: the film opens with an eerie, near-wordless sequence capped by an image that can only be described as a pile of Milla Jovovich
es. Luckily, continuity is maintained by original Evil filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson
, screenwriter here and provider of much exposition and laughable dialogue to match its predecessors. Article continues below
Still, the story itself has its dirty charms. Since the events of the second film, Earth has been overrun by zombies and the United States is mainly desert. The newly genetically modified Alice (Milla Jovovich) rides her motorcycle around the wasteland, lying low to avoid her sinister creators, the Umbrella Corporation. Her former cohort Carlos (former Mummy Oded Fehr
) has joined a convoy of desperate survivors led by Claire (Ali Larter
) and including Ashanti
and Mike Epps
. Respect is due to an apocalyptic sci-fi horror series that actually follows through on that apocalypse business; Extinction furthers its bleak cred by imagining a future so dystopic that Ashanti is one of the last humans left alive on the planet.
As the survivors traverse the desert, Umbrella's science guru Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen
) continues his experiments in hope of reversing, or at least controlling, the zombie plague his company unleashed back in the good old days of Resident Evil part one. Because he is a scientist, he is able to perform miraculous feats of cloning and behavior modification; because he is a mad scientist, he expresses his boredom and impatience with these feats when they only go slightly, not disastrously, awry.
As these stories converge, Milla Jovovich, as both Alice and her various ill-fated counterparts, spends a lot of time in what has become her signature pose for the series: waking up on her side, naked and wet, hands placed demurely over her breasts. Another popular move, the (clothed) flying kick to the face (of a zombie and/or zombie dog), makes a return appearance, and to her repertoire she adds some fearsome knife-twirling. This is not a performance of emotions or hidden interiors, but of collectible action figures. But in a minimal and sometimes near-robotic way, Jovovich owns the screen when she's playing Alice; after three films, both the character and the actress just seem so damned resolute. She's not Ripley or Trinity or even a Charlie's Angel, but for 90 minutes every few years, she's our B-movie hero.
Extinction accommodates this unique star power by surrounding her with lightweights who make Jovovich's wooden minimalism seem world-weary and humane. Fehr has a couple of wry moments towards the end, but the buses carrying the convoy members might as well be labeled "corpses" -- they're only interesting insofar as when and how quickly they die. The convoy subplot brings in human concerns that the series has long since abandoned; after you become a jump-kicking, zombie-stabbing dynamo who may be developing telekinesis, apparently you can't go home again.
Indeed, the human-heavy sections contain some of Anderson's hoariest nonsense, augmented by a persistent thudding sound that turns out to be Ali Larter and Ashanti reading their lines (Larter somehow makes the possibility of survival in Alaska sound hilarious rather than, say, hopeful). A leaner, sparer version would sacrifice some of the goofiness in order to deliver on the promise of the darker impulses of series. As is, it's a pretty silly B-picture.
Still, it's a better, more entertaining B-picture than its predecessors. The scope expands, not just in its variety of production design -- the first film seemed to take place mostly in a series of hallways while here we see a sand-sunk Las Vegas and grim bunker boardrooms -- but in the other movies it knocks off. Extinction still steals liberally from other zombie pictures, and the deserted future necessitates some grand theft Mad Max. But while the filmmakers are at it, they throw in sources as varied as The Birds, The Matrix, X-Men, and even Alien: Resurrection. Mulcahy and Anderson don't synthesize them into something distinctive and new, but they do smash and grab with panache.
As with every entry so far, the newest installment primes the audience for a sequel; at this rate, maybe it'll continue up the stairway to "actually good" (the hook will certainly entice Jovovich fans for its potential in the crucial areas of fighting and nudity). It's hard to recommend a Resident Evil movie, but even harder to say I wouldn't see part four.