Between its cosplay posturing, hokey dialogue and generally sleepwalked acting, the latest installment of the commercially focused “Resident Evil” film series makes a good case for the best cinematic display of unintentional comedy yet. So belligerent is the movie in massaging the weary scalps of its lowest-common-denominator audience that the only way anyone else might enjoy it is to point and laugh at the commotion.
For what it’s worth, director Paul W.S. Anderson, whose more-watchable films include “Event Horizon” and, uh, “AVP: Alien vs. Predator,” has a distinctive style that has given the “Resident Evil” films a unique aesthetic zest. As the films are based on a massively successful Japanese video game series, Anderson has given his on screen interpretations a sprightly sense of constant visual vertigo that borders on fetishistic in its loyalty to the source material. An intro scene in the latest, “Resident Evil: Retribution,” is presented backwards, as in a high-definition rewind, providing for a gimmicky but geeky-fun start.
Gauche aesthetics matter little to Anderson, who prefers to have his characters mimic exactly their video game counterparts’ looks and movements. Estonian actor Johann Urb got the shortest end of the stick cast as Leon S. Kennedy, whose video game haircut is not unlike those on a ’90s era Japanese boy-band.
The cost of making a film that plays out like a video game cut scene, however, is a ridiculousness that cannot be overlooked. The story (biological weapon turns everyone into zombies, some people who look like models shoot at zombies, etc.) is merely a jumping off point to get from one gun-toting, dull fight scene to the next.
Franchise star and wife of director Anderson, Milla Jovovich, is a powerful presence, but the script and editing make her look like she was consistently chucked lines right before the call of “Action!” When the story calls for her to emote, Jovovich manages to sprinkle her soullessly written character with a believable weight. It lasts mere seconds, but it at least gives the film’s global zombie threat some tangible sense of what’s at stake, because for all the film’s hysterical talk, its menace just never feels, well, menacing.
But Anderson, who also wrote the script, is too busy for such sentiments. Preferring instead to evoke emotions with elementary tricks that suggest momentum without actually setting up any context — unremitting slow motion sequences and a neo-classical soundtrack that swells every few minutes are cues that shout out THIS.IS.A.MOMENT — but emit nothing.
When “main” characters die under howls of minor chord crescendos, it is almost laughable, as they never really felt “alive.” When finale punches are thrown and acrobatic kill shots are presented with the same tricks, it similarly prompts the question, why? Does Anderson feel showing the hundredth bullet flying in slow motion after the previous 99 make it special? Whoever falls for this visual hocus pocus is likely cut from the same cloth as those that go to tears every time they are sent a Hallmark e-card.
From a Schwarzenegger-meets-Duke-Nukem character sitting in the Oval Office’s presidential chair to plenty of Japanese zombies running down a Shibuya crossing lookalike, there is plenty of fun to be made at the expense of “Retribution.” It’s entertaining, but surely not as Anderson intended it to be.