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Rapid Review: Resident Evil – Afterlife

September 12, 2010

Okay, you caught me.  I’m an unabashedly rabid “gamer girl”.  One of my favorite video game franchises is the brilliantly named and brilliantly designed Resident Evil series, which has gamers facing a variety of undead foes, including zombie Doberman Pinschers, parasitically infected Spanish villagers and even crazed re-animated medical experiments.    The 4th entry in the game, Resident Evil 4, was so immersive and downright scary that I had to play it with all of the lights on in the house.  You know, in case there were any undead lurking about in the shadows and stuff…

When you have such an awesome series of games, there are bound to be movies produced to cash in on their success.  The first of the Resident Evil films was a half-baked yawn, which was surprising considering that many of the actors (Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, James Purefoy) were actually doing their jobs fairly well.  Still, it suffered from a generic script and lack of overall intensity and gung-ho attitude.   The second and third films, subtitled Apocalypse and Extinction, were vastly more entertaining, focusing on what life would be like when extreme Darwinism was truly unleashed on the world in the form of these genetically-engineered undead.  Plus, lots of stuff (and former people) got blowed up. 

Now we have Afterlife, which I’m going to assume takes place about two or three days before the History Channel’s Life After People begins. Once the last movie promised extinction, I just assumed we were done.  How ridiculously naive.

Milla Jovovich once again takes the helm of this franchise as Alice, the part-human, part-genetically undead (don’t ask) heroine designed by the evil Umbrella corporation (the dastardly source of the undead plague) to be its greatest weapon.  Unfortunately for Umbrella, Alice turned the tables on them two movies ago, and is still working to take down the last vestiges of the company, while also helping the remaining humans on the planet survive. Tall order for one chick.

Claire and Alice prepare to take names...

Jovovich is a believable and capable action heroine when she has the right script.  She makes even the most ridiculously bizzarre line seem sincere, which is a talent in itself.  Along for the ride in this adventure are several less-interesting sidekicks, including game favorites Claire Redfield (the former de facto leader of the human resistance) and her brother Chris, and several annoying L.A. stereotypes (creepy producer, professional athelete) whose names I am not required to remember for plot purposes.  All of these other characters are mostly background, designed mainly to provide someone for Alice to either rescue or put in harm’s way in varying degrees of importance.

Alice must rescue the human survivors, all the while still searching for the elusive Arcadia, which claims to be a virus-free haven where our remaining characters can live happily ever after.   Along the way there will be many virus-infected minions – most of them ripped straight from the 4th and 5th installments of the popular Capcom games.

If there is a main villain in this film, it is the hulking presence known as Albert Wesker, who is supposed to be a diabolical genius and the muscle and brains behind Umbrella, but he is played by minor actor Shawn Roberts, who is about as intimidating as Betty White.  Then again, Betty White might be fairly intimidating depending on your point-of-view.

The movie takes place primarily in a post-apocalyptic L.A., which has been overrun by mass waves of undead.  This is even more wink, wink than the last movie’s  Las Vegas overrun by mass waves of undead, which is the most logical place that lazy, shiftless undead would congregate.   The remaining survivors are holed up in a massive prison, which is the perfect place to hide if you are either a ghost hunter or ridiculously unintelligent.   

Wentworth Miller as Chris Redfield

The movie was shot in 3D and intended to be in 3D from its inception (it hasn’t been “remastered”) and there are some fun hack and slash moments that would work better as video game sequences.  At several points I found myself wanting to mash down an invisible X button for no conceivable reason.

Afterlife is essentially an hour and a half ‘s worth of  FX madness crossed with a prison escape film.  The one moment of true squeal-inducing excitement happens when Alice and Claire team up to fight a memorable Resident Evil 5 boss,   if only because this sequence (like many others) flashes  by at such a stylized, frenetic, blood-soaked pace that the viewer tosses logic and common sense out the window.  Let’s face it – it’s fun, but it’s not a masterwork of cinema. 

Director Paul W.S. Anderson is fond of using bullet-time effects and placing his characters in situations where water is allowed to pool and drip in pretty but sterile  slow motion sequences.  In the end, Afterlife is a successful action movie if you don’t mind your movies loud and in-your-face (I don’t). 

In short – gamers will enjoy the novelty of having their beloved characters and villains onscreen.  Newbies to the franchise may find these adventures more tame than terrifying.

RE fans – be sure and stay after the credits begin to roll for a peek at the inevitable sequel and the return of a beloved franchise character.

Overall Grade:  C

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