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All about Evil
September 20, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
Were it not for the need to fill this column each week, I probably wouldn't have a clue what "Resident Evil" movies are all about. The fifth of them, "Retribution," opened last weekend, at the top of the box-office charts.
I can't remember if this is the second or third I've seen in the half-billion-dollar film franchise spawned from a popular video game. I still don't have a clue what they're about.
Wait, take that back. They're about spending an hour and a half watching model-turned-icon Mila Jovovich, in extreme close-ups of her fascinating face or glorious, physics-defying action to save the world from zombies, lethal viruses, monsters and the greedy Umbrella Corporation that created them in the first place.
It created her, too, injecting her with the T-virus in a lab experiment. It didn't kill her - it made her stronger. The fun of these movies is trying to guess if she's supposed to be human or not.
Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson - Mila's husband - created her character and named her Alice. It's his way of letting us know this is the new Wonderland, where Alice prefers a skintight S&M wardrobe and packs a pair of huge, honkin' handguns as she battles to level the playing field with the Red Queen, who's actually a supercomputer with a young girl's face.
Alice and her little band of allies have to fight their way through a maze of elaborate soundstage recreations of New York, Tokyo, American suburbia and a Soviet submarine works - all part of the Umbrella empire. With their striking production design, the "Resident Evils" are works of visceral, visual immersion - ballets of bullets in slow-motion; Rolls-Royce car chases; bodies - usually beautiful women - ignoring the law of gravity in gymnastic mortal combat. Alice may be in an epic battle to save the world, but the way she goes about it feels more like a Manhattan fashion shoot.
Critics of this fifth helping of "Evil" point to a flat quality to the acting, along with clunky sound editing so the characters' voices are always out of synch. Seems to me, that's the point. Mila Jovovich isn't portraying a human being facing a horrendous future - she's playing a scarred but defiant product of that future, fighting to get her humanity back, one breath at a time.
Movies' ways of distorting reality - like those old-fashioned funhouse mirrors - have been leading us into uncharted territory in recent weeks. The "Resident Evil" screening was preceded by a trailer for Clint Eastwood's upcoming baseball drama, "Trouble with the Curve," an inadvertent reminder of the iconic filmmaker's recent impromptu starring role at the Republican National Convention.
Eastwood's now immortal dialogue with the empty chair still has political observers scratching their heads. Thinking that the rambling comments were actually a performance - say, Eastwood's portrayal of a party loyalist - is probably generous, wishful thinking. Besides, Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow already played that part, as the billionaire, election-buying Motch brothers in Will Ferrell's long-running satire, "The Campaign."
At the other end of the political spectrum, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza cracked the box-office top 10 with "2016: Obama's America." It's purported to be a documentary but sounds (I didn't see it) more apocalyptic, like the political equivalent of "Resident Evil."
As though all that weren't confusing and scary enough, we're getting daily news reports of anti-American demonstrations spreading throughout the Middle East as the result of - uh - a movie.
It may not be an actual movie - just a few minutes of inflammatory racism masquerading as one. But that doesn't makes it any less dangerous as it keeps ticking like a celluloid time bomb.
"Resident Evil's" director, Paul W.S. Anderson - known for turning video games into movies - has had the challenge through his career of being confused with two other filmmakers with similar names: Paul Thomas Anderson, whose new "The Master" is already getting raves; and Wes Anderson, whose eccentric "Moonrise Kingdom" was a surprise summer hit.
The later two Andersons get credit as film artists, while the "Resident Evil" guy just rakes in the bucks - but he may be onto something deeper, too.
Movies seem to be leading us all down the rabbit hole to Wonderland as they keep jumping off the screen in more and more bizarre ways. But it's sure not fun being Alice these days.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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