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(2002) (Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez) (R)

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Horror: A group of people race against the clock to find and contain a deadly virus all while dealing with hundreds of undead zombies and other mutant creatures that repeatedly attack them.
Somewhere below Raccoon City resides a complex known as the Hive. Run by the powerful Umbrella Corporation - a leading supplier of computer technology and medical and health care products - the Hive is home for more than 500 researchers and scientists who work on covert operations involving military technology, medical experimentation and bio-weaponry.

Overseen by a powerful supercomputer known as the Red Queen (voice of MICHAELA DICKER), things seem fine in the Hive until one of their latest projects - known as the T-virus - goes awry. Accordingly, the Red Queen puts the place in lockdown and uses nerve gas to kill everyone inside, all to prevent the now airborne virus from escaping the facility.

Meanwhile, in a manor above one of the secret entrances to the Hive, Alice (MILLA JOVOVICH) is waking up in the shower, unaware of her identity or location. After discovering that she's apparently married to a man named Spence (JAMES PUREFOY), various commandos raid the manor and want Alice's report. She has no idea what they're talking about, which also holds true for Spence, while the commandos cuff another man, Matt (ERIC MABIUS), who's also there.

After being informed of what's occurred, Alice and the others accompany the commandos -- who include Rain (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ), Kaplan (MARTIN CREWES), One (COLIN SALMON) and J.D. (PASQUALE ALEARDI) among others - down into the Hive where they must find and contain the virus before it infects the rest of the world.

Unbeknownst to them, however, the virus has an effect on the dead - it reanimates them. Thus, from that point on, and as Alice slowly begins to remember her role working for the Umbrella Corporation, she and the others race against the clock to accomplish their mission. While doing so, they must deal with the Red Queen's defensive measures as well as hundreds of undead zombies and other mutant creatures that repeatedly attack and can infect them with just one bite or scratch.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
Probably proving why I'm not a studio executive giving the green light to film projects, I don't understand why we're still being "treated" to video/computer games being turned into feature films. Sure, there are the random hits such as last year's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," but most viewers were probably more interested in seeing Angelina Jolie playing the gun-toting, ultra busty heroine rather than in how the filmmakers had adapted the game's storyline.

Beyond that hit, the charred remains of other such films that crashed and burned with viewers have been stinking up the cinema for years. Of course, I don't attest to being a current video/computer game junkie or casual player, so maybe I'm missing something. Back in my day, however, no one was making movies based on Asteroids, Space Invaders or Breakout. Wait a minute, there were movies about giant rocks and extraterrestrials threatening Earth, and plenty have featured some sort of breaking out as part of their plot.

Heck, even the chase and flee through corridors theme and plot of Pac-Man has turned up in countless films. Maybe I'm onto something here. Could "Frogger the Movie" be a future coming attraction? Until then, we'll have to be content with the latest such adaptation, "Resident Evil."

Based on the popular game that debuted in 1996 and reportedly nearing its 5th version due out sometime soon, the game and subsequent movie are essentially souped up and more complicated versions of the old Pac-Man game. In short, human characters flee from and/or fight with inhuman creatures/monsters who pursue them through narrow corridors, etc.

Like every other cinematic adaptation of such a game, this one naturally suffers from its passive, third person mode (compared to the first person, interactive experience of playing the game), although if the setup, story and execution are handled just right, there's still the chance that the resultant film could be entertaining. Unfortunately, and unless you get your kicks by watching new and creative ways to slice and dice characters - and I mean that literally - this effort won't come off that way despite the claustrophobic, race against time setting.

The culprits for that are both plentiful and rather easy to point out. For one, while storylines for video/computer games might seem somewhat "cool" in their own environment, when they're brought to the big screen they often come across as silly or ludicrous, and this one's no exception to the rule.

Worse, however, is the fact that just as was the case with "Tomb Raider," this film has copied, stolen and/or borrowed elements from so many other preexisting pictures that it wouldn't be surprising if a class action lawsuit were in the works.

Beyond the usual raiding of the claustrophobic, flee and fight with the alien creatures moments from the first two "Alien" films (and the countless, subsequent works that have copied that formula), there's the obvious influence of George Romero's zombie-infested "Living Dead" films.

It's also hard not to miss the homicidal computer character from "2001: A Space Odyssey" (although this time the computer oddly speaks in the voice of a young British girl rather than the spookily soothing voice of Douglas Rain as the HAL 9000). The same holds true for the "Hey, I'm really a highly trained and lethal spy/agent with amnesia" element from "The Long Kiss Goodnight." If it's not bad enough that the film takes those elements and others and tries to rearrange and/or combine them into something new, it's worse when it doesn't do something novel, creative or at least interesting with them.

The film's biggest problem, however, and one that clearly undermines the above elements, is that writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson - not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson (who helmed "Magnolia" and "Boogie Night") - doesn't allow us to know, let alone care about the characters before throwing them into the proverbial meat grinder. Not only must we passively watching the proceedings, but we also have no vested interest in what's at stake or the well-being of the participants.

Even dummied-down slasher films at least attempt to set that up, but Anderson - who previously directed the big screen version of the Mortal Kombat game before helming "Soldier" and the effectively spooky and creepy "Event Horizon" -- is apparently more interested in staging the film's numerous jump scenes than in engaging the viewer. Alas, even those moments aren't that effective, as most everyone will spot the overused conventions long before the jack-in-the-box effect is unleashed.

As far as the performances are concerned, they're all undermined by the lack of any sort of character buildup, depth or exploration. Granted, this isn't the usual sort of picture that generates many Oscar nominees, but one need only think of Sigourney Weaver's character in the first "Alien" films to get an idea of how it can be done right.

Here, Milla Jovovich ("The Claim," "The Fifth Element") gets top billing as the confused woman who slowly remembers the past and her lethal, butt-kicking abilities. The eventual revelation of her involvement with the main plotline isn't worth waiting for or trying it figure out, however, and she clearly pales in comparison to Weaver as well as Geena Davis in a similar role in the far superior "The Long Kiss Goodnight."

Michelle Rodriguez ("The Fast and the Furious," "Girlfight") - with seemingly permanent scowl and sarcastic look affixed to her mug - plays the standard "tough chick" character near always found in these sorts of movies (think of Jenette Goldstein playing Pvt. Vasquez in "Aliens"). Despite her physical bravado and presence, as well as a few fun lines, however, the role isn't anything special or memorable.

For a turn, the male characters take a back seat to the ladies, with the likes of Eric Mabius ("Cruel Intentions," "Lawn Dogs"), James Purefoy ("A Knight's Tale," "Mansfield Park") and Martin Crewes (making his feature film debut) all pretty much blending together. The only real interest in them - much like in other films of this nature - is in what order and gruesome fashion they'll meet their demise.

Unfortunately, none of that occurs quick enough to shorten the film's long for the genre runtime of around 100 minutes. Of course, fanatics of this sort of B-movie, cat and mouse thrillers probably won't mind any of the aforementioned criticisms and just might enjoy the offerings.

Yet, the fact that the filmmakers don't do anything special with this material - that we've seen far too many times as it is - coupled with our lack of interest in the characters and the various ill-conceived, illogical or just plain stupid moments the film has to offer means that the only noticeable "Resident Evil" on display here is the lack of creativity in the minds of the filmmakers. Accordingly, their effort rates as just a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 11, 2002 / Posted March 15, 2002

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