Paul W.S. Anderson
Milla Jovovich - Alice
Michelle Rodriguez - Rain Ocampo
Eric Mabius - Matt Addison
James Purefoy - Spence Parks
Martin Crewes - Chad Kaplan
Genre - Horror/Action/Science Fiction/Zombies/Video Game
Running Time - 100 Minutes
In 1996, Capcom [maker of the uber-popular Mega Man and Street Fighter games] released a survival horror video game titled Resident Evil on Sony's Playstation console. Introducing STARS Alpha team members Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine as they're trapped inside a mansion infested with zombies and zombified dogs created from experiments by the Umbrella Corporation, Resident Evil caught the attention of many gamers and it became successful both critically and commercially. Resident Evil is considered a landmark game in video game history, as it became the prototype for every other survival horror game and really showed that video games could be creepy and/or scary. In 1998, Resident Evil 2 was released [which starred Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy] and it was more successful than the first one [it's my second favorite in the series]. Capcom now had a video game franchise on its hands, which obviously caught the attention of Sony movie executives who wanted to bring the game to the big screen.
The release of Resident Evil couldn't have been more perfect. 1996 was also the year that the horror genre was revitalized by Wes Craven's SCREAM, putting horror back on the mainstream map. In 1999, Sony sought the assistance of George A. Romero, the man who is known as the King of Zombies with his work on the ...OF THE DEAD series of films. Romero was supposed to direct and write the screenplay for the film, which was based mostly on the first Resident Evil game and introduced many of the game's characters into the film. For some reason, Sony and Capcom hated Romero's input and fired him. Apparently Sony wanted a more action-oriented film while Romero's was more focused on the horror and the mystery of the Umbrella Corporation.
Looking elsewhere, Sony and Capcom enlisted the help of Paul W.S. Anderson, the man who brought the Mortal Kombat video game franchise to life in two films [the first one being considered as the best video game adaptation on screen, which isn't saying alot]. Anderson, who would also sign on to direct, decided to make a Resident Evil film that would act as a prequel to the video game storylines [originally titled GROUND ZERO but taken off due to the events of 9-11], focusing more on the mystery of a made-up Alice character and her ties to the Umbrella Corporation, giving the film a more action-based scenerio than the suspense-scenerio the games are known for.
Released in 2002, RESIDENT EVIL was a worldwide box office hit. It made over $100 million and, as of today, has spawned three sequels starring Milla Jovovich as Alice. Critical reception for RESIDENT EVIL was very negative during its release [even today as well]. I've only seen this film once before I watched it again for this review back in 2003, and I was pretty indifferent to it. As a fan of the video games, it left a lot to be desired. Watching it again seven years later, I still feel indifferent to RESIDENT EVIL. It's not the worst film ever made, nor is it the worst video game adaptation. But it hasn't held up all that well and I'm really surprised, based on this film, that RESIDENT EVIL spawned a franchise.
A naked amnesiac named Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up to find that she's inside a mansion that has been raided by a group of militant agents, including Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) and Kaplan (Martin Crewes). The group was hired by the world's most powerful corporation, Umbrella, to infiltrate some underground lab beneath the mansion called The Hive. Alice is apparently in charge of protecting the entrance prior to her amnesia, as well as being genetically altered in order to do so, along with her supposed husband Spence (James Purefoy), who also has amnesia. Also in the mansion is Matt (Eric Mabius), a cop who is hunting down Umbrella wanting answers after his sister has gone missing.
The reason for all this is the fact that someone inside of the Umbrella Corporation unleashed the deadly T-Virus, a biochemical that reanimates dead tissue and brings the dead back to life, through the ventilation system. Even though the answers are inside The Hive, the lab is controlled by a very sophisticated piece of artificial intelligence called the Red Queen, whose sole purpose is to kill anyone inside the complex to keep the T-Virus inside. The gang must destroy the Red Queen, as well as the zombies that have now called The Hive home.
RESIDENT EVIL is a very mediocre movie based on an excellent series of video games. It feels very mechanical in how its presented, leaving you feeling cold after the 100 minutes is over. This is a film that steals ideas from other genre films while trying to create its own mythology, something that doesn't seem to work and come together. What went wrong here?
I think the major culprit for RESIDENT EVIL's flaws is the script itself by Paul W.S. Anderson. The saddest part about this is that the film actually starts out very well, with the "worker bees" in the Hive getting exposed by the T-Virus, causing massive chaos. It sets up the rest of the film really well, making you invested in what's going to happen and how it'll be resolved [or not]. Even the first couple of minutes when Alice wakes up and walks around the mansion confused and looking at photos is good. It actually has a moody and atmospheric feel, something the Resident Evil games are known for. But once that militant group enters the fray, it all goes downhill. The reason for that is the fact that these characters are all interchangable besides Rain, who is the token tough girl of the group and sneers the whole film through, and the black leader because of his skin color. The other members, with Kaplan only being noticable because he lasts longer than the others, can all be replaced with mannequins and the effect would still be similar.
This leads to the main problem: no character development. Why should we care about these people? Two of them have amnesia. The soldiers do reveal anything about themselves that has any importance. The only character that has some development is Matt, whose sister was inside of the Hive when the T-Virus outbreak went down, giving him a reasonable motive as to why he's bothering with all this. But even he comes off flat because we don't know anything else about him except he's a cop. You can't invest any emotion in these characters because there's nothing to really connect to. And when the actors [which I will get to towards the end] don't really bring out something that could make these characters interesting, you don't really give a damn. Even the zombies, except for The Licker, are bland. How do you make zombies boring?
The dialogue is also pretty bad. The lines consist of each character shouting at each other and giving out straight commands. "No!" "Help me!" "Run!" "Stand back!" The whole film is pretty much like this. And it takes itself way too seriously. This sort of film could use a bit of fun in it, but RESIDENT EVIL sucks the fun right out. Dialogue is supposed to reveal at least something about a character. But besides this one good moment where Matt and Alice discuss his sister, which leads to Alice remembering who she is, the dialogue does nothing but provide exposition that would be better off shown instead of heard.
This is why video game adaptations don't work for the most part. A slim story and dialogue that I mentioned in the previous paragraph succeed in video games because we get to control what happens. Resident Evil doesn't have the strongest or greatest story in the world, but since we can control Chris or Jill, we get to become invested in what happens. We can change the story as it happens by killing all the zombies, or running away from them until they catch up with us later on. That's why video games work because we control the characters' actions and stories. With a video game adaptation, that's already predetermined. We have no say in how the story will go, leaving us feeling distant and detached. That's why these type of films need a good story because what's the point otherwise?
The SFX and gore in RESIDENT EVIL is a mixed bag. The gore is pretty nonexistent for a zombie feature. People get bitten and stuff, but nothing too graphic and the characters hardly bleed out. As for the SFX, it's mainly CGI. Some of it looks good, like some of the zombie makeup. Hell, the crows in the film are CGI and I couldn't really tell. However, the Licker looks pretty bad in his CGI form, although he does look cool towards the end. But things look really cartoonish to the point where you just want to shut it off and play the video game instead.
The direction by Paul W.S. Anderson is also a mixed bag. There's not enough tension, suspense, or scares to make RESIDENT EVIL feel like a horror film. There's not enough excitement and interesting battle sequences to make RESIDENT EVIL feel like an interesting action film. The sci-fi element is too subtle. However, the film does have a great polished look to it. I mean, the lighting and the colors are actually quite nice. The dream flashbacks are also well done. And there is style here, with the slow motion shots [which get sort of annoying towards the end], and a frenetic pace during the action scenes [which unfortunately takes away the effectiveness of the zombie attacks]. It's a nice looking film, but it's not directed all that well.
The acting is just there for the most part. Milla Jovovich is beautiful to look at, but she gives a pretty wooden performance for the most part. However, she carries the film as well as possible and thankfully she'd get better in the sequels. Michelle Rodriguez plays Michelle Rodriguez - tough, pouty, and angry. That's pretty much all I can say about her. It's a performance she does well. Eric Mabius is the best actor in the film, having the most interesting character as Matt. He seems to be the only one remembering he's in a horror-action movie. Why he wasn't the main character and actor is beyond me. James Purefoy isn't given enough to do until the end, but does it well when the material is presented to him. And Martin Crewes did as best as he could with a thin role. I really don't blame the actors for this one when the script they had to work with didn't do anyone any favors.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TONGUE KISSING THE LICKER
- "At the beginning of the 21st Century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States." If that's the case, I blame Chris Brown for this mess.
- Don't ever get trapped between the doors of an elevator. It's not worth losing your head over. Literally.
- Rain told Matt to blow her. I wouldn't doubt that this chick has a bigger dick than the guys in this film. Well except for the black guy because...well...you know.
- The Red Queen's defense grids killed four of the operatives. These guys shouldn't taken the job if they were just gonna fall to pieces due to pressure.
- A "survivor" bit Rain's hand after she tried to console her. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! That's worse than THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE. At least she'll breast feed you!
- Alice shot and kicked around a few dogs. That's how you deal with a bunch of bitches, ladies and gentlemen.
- The zombies kept getting good bites on Rain. For someone who was great in a GIRLFIGHT, she's neither FAST or FURIOUS.
- The Licker has a very long tongue. Too bad Lindsay Lohan's out of jail. I'm sure it would've made a suitable cellmate.
THE FINAL HOWL
While not the worst video game adaptation out there, RESIDENT EVIL is still mediocre. Time has not really been kind to this one, as the Resident Evil video games that were released after this film actually have more interesting stories and characters. It doesn't do enough as a horror film. It doesn't do enough as an action film. Its sole purpose is to build a franchise rather than focus on making a good self-contained story. RESIDENT EVIL is an okay waste of 2 hours, but I would rather spend that time beating the video game itself [which would probably be more fun]. Mildly entertaining flick that ends up forgettable once it ends.
1.5 Howls Outta 4