Review: Resident Evil: Retribution
PLOT: That slinky, immortal ass-kicking clone Alice is back doing what she does best: being a fly in the ointment of the evil Umbrella corporation. This time she has to battle her way out of an underwater facility, while old faces reemerge to either help her or try to end her life once and for all.
REVIEW: The RESIDENT EVIL movies have been watchable time-killers at best; vapid, by-the-numbers shoot-em-ups at worst. The series has never exactly sought to challenge expectations, usually content to toss its heroine, Alice (played by Milla Jovovich, what a trooper) into various ghoul-plagued situations only to see her blast her way out time and time again. It switches up the background and supporting characters, sure, it but never strays from its formula; it's what works, and the movies have been moderately entertaining thus far. But with the latest installment, a snooze-inducing, awkward and ugly mess subtitled RETRIBUTION, it really looks like the franchise is close to death. There will be another one, there's no doubt about that, but honestly, it would be humane of Screen Gems and RESIDENT EVIL overlord Paul W.S. Anderson to put a bullet in the old gal's head before its suffering continues any longer.
RETRIBUTION begins with a banal round-up of what's been goin' down thus far, a completely unnecessary montage that might as well begin with, "Previously, on Resident Evil..." If people are settling in for RESIDENT EVIL 5, they probably don't need a refresher. And if they do? F*ck it, it's RESIDENT EVIL 5. Following this silliness, we're thrust in what looks like a dream sequence, with Alice playing suburban housewife to a husband (Oded Fehr, from the 2nd and 3rd installments) and deaf daughter (Aryana Engineer). This soon turns into a zombie-filled nightmare ala the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake (really, its wholesale lifting of DAWN'S celebrated opener is shameless) and though this isn't a dream, exactly, we're ultimately back with Alice as we recognize her: half-naked and shivering on the floor of an antiseptic lab, courtesy of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation and its snarling boss, Wesker (Shawn Roberts, once again doing a terrible Hugo Weaving impersonation).
But wait! Before you can say, "here we go again," it turns out that Wesker is actually attempting to save Alice this time around. You see, even he has now lost control of the Umbrella corp's sinister computer system, the Red Queen; you may recall it being represented in hologram form as a little British girl in the first film. The Red Queen is intent on wiping out humanity - what remains of it anyway, there has got to be like thirty people left on the whole goddamn planet - and so Wesker needs Alice's assistance to put an end to the computer's schemes. Why he even gives a shit is beyond me, but to help her out (did I mention this is all taking place in an elaborate underwater facility? Well, it is.), Wesker dispatches a "strike force" made up of about five dudes, one of whom is Luther (Boris Kodjoe), who shared very vague chemistry with Alice in the last one, and another head-smashing-yet-feminine warrior named Ada (Li BingBing).
RETRIBUTION then sets about a series of wholly uninspired, cheesy and strangely cheap-looking action set-pieces staged in various "cities" within the facility. The movie's idea of being clever is to have the characters move through several artificial environments that were once used for training exercises. Said environments are modeled after Moscow, New York and Japan - and it would actually be a cool concept, but the movie's effects are so chintzy, the sets so half-assed and Anderson's direction so dull, that it's a completely wasted idea. For example, Anderson decides to set a no-holds-barred brawl in the middle of "Times Square" between Alice, her new gal-pal Ada and two hammer-swinging behemoths, but then absolutely squanders all the potential the location provides by staging the sequence so gloomily and unimaginatively that it never once seems like they're anywhere other than a sound-stage. For a movie made by a gigantic corporation like Sony, RETRIBUTION feels so oddly low-budget.
Never one to be confused with a cinematic genius, Anderson has never been more on autopilot; his approach to crafting an exciting action scene is to pummel the audience with a cacophony of unappealing noises (including Tomandandy's relentless score) and planting the camera wherever is easiest. He obviously believes that the image of a person shooting a machine gun is as good as it gets, because there are countless minutes spent (wasted?) on people standing in place while unloading their weapon; I haven't seen so many bland shoot-outs since the 80s. If the characters are not standing still, they're leaping and shooting, or running and shooting, or sliding and shooting. The director also finds a thrill in such passe visual tricks like bullet time (which stopped being cool right around the second MATRIX movie) and that thing where someone gets punched and the camera zooms in so tight on their body that suddenly we're seeing an x-ray of their bones being broken! Super awesome, right? It's so awesome that Anderson has three shots of this very thing occur all in the span of about one minute.
Because Anderson is so uninspired, his listlessness and dearth of creativity clearly rub off on the cast; most of the acting in the film is pretty dreadful. Sienna Guillory, who returns as Jill Valentine (from the 2nd film, only now brain-washed and bad), gives a remarkably awful performance, one for the ages, but everyone looks bored stiff and eager for lunch. Even Milla, usually a strong screen presence even in the franchise's weakest moments, is recognizably weary of this tired charade, as Alice is forced to mutter the same hollow threats and dangle from the same old wires countless times. I honestly felt bad for her; wanted to tell her that it's okay to say no to her hubby, to tell him maybe it's time to move on to something else, and damn those reliable checks from Sony.
The only interesting image in RETRIBUTION comes in the final moments, as the inevitable cliffhanger presents us with a bizarre, surreal apocalyptic vision, while Wesker ominously intones, "It's the beginning of the end." Yeah, but how long is it going to take..?