Dir: Russell Mulcahy. US. 2007. 94 minutes.
A movie of intermittent action catharsis and reliably deafening sound design, the altogether middling Resident Evil: Extinction takes the videogame action franchise to the desert, allowing star Milla Jovovich to energetically lop off zombie heads in a manner that will please series aficionados but leave newcomers mostly fidgety and baffled.
2002's Resident Evil was a surprisingly strong international earner, pulling in $102 million worldwide, and 2004's follow-up upped that take to $129 million. This installment will likely rule the box office on its opening weekend in North America, with returns in the mid-$20 million range. Foreign territories, which have comprised 60 percent of the first two films' theatrical revenue, should help power this installment to similar heights, if not just beyond. Ancillary value will also remain high, given the devotion of the subset of fans of the videogame.
At one time employed and later held captive by the all-powerful Umbrella Corporation, Alice (Jovovich) was subjected to biogenic experimentation that left her genetically altered. With an experimental T-Virus having been accidentally unleashed on the world, transforming most of the population into a scourge of shambling zombies with a taste for flesh, Alice now wanders about, trying to help pockets of survivors while also avoiding detection by her former employers.
Alice soon meets up with a caravan of around 30 people led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). The group includes Carlos (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps), here reprising their roles from the franchise's second installment. The convoy decides to head north to Alaska - their last, best hope for refuge from the undead - but first have to make a pit-stop in Las Vegas to refuel. There, hidden beneath an abandoned Nevada radio tower are the Umbrella Corporation's sleek research facilities, where Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) works to create a docile work force, stripping zombies of their baser instincts by using antibodies from Alice 's blood. When Alice surfaces and is located by satellite, Dr. Isaacs becomes obsessed with finding and capturing her, dead or alive.
Whereas the first film unfolded in claustrophobic fashion in a contained space, and the second film took place largely at night, Extinction opens things up much more. Visually, the film takes inspiration from dusty apocalyptic movies like Mad Max 2, with original Resident Evil cinematographer David Johnson providing a dusty backdrop for Eugenio Caballero's stirring production design work.
Much of the ground covered in Paul W.S. Anderson's script is familiar, from the obligatory character trying to keep a zombie bite secret to loose, hazy strains of conspiracy.
At times Alice can control objects and summon forth a force-field with her mind, while at other times she seems to have to rely on martial arts. With no explanation of the particulars of her powers, each subsequent set piece becomes inconsequential from the point of any emotional investment. Also, for a film with several returning characters, there's remarkably little chemistry in Alice 's connection to Carlos or L.J., except for one late act of sacrifice that carries about half its intended effect.
Director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, The Shadow) stages the extended re-supply stop in Las Vegas with plenty of wild-eyed, slow-motion blood-letting, and the film's most triumphant set piece is a massive attack of virus-infected crows. But the slapdash manner in which other action scenes are edited together, as with a demon dog sequence early in the movie, is more frequently irritating. Mulcahy achieves reaction mostly through foley work, where every spilled jar of change reverberates like a gunshot.
If Alice remains somewhat of a cipher for an action franchise heroine, Jovovich at least imprints her steely personality and leonine physicality onto the character, and Glen sneers and seethes effectively as the rogue scientist who takes matters into his own hands. Other actors, however, fail to punch through the movie's heavy action emphasis.
Technical credits are solid all around. Charlie Clouser, meanwhile, has plenty of experience (both as former Nine Inch Nails keyboardist and the composer for the Saw films) composing sinister music, and his layered, abrasive synth work here meshes nicely with the film's hell-in-a-handbasket pop sheen.
Paul W.S. Anderson
Kelly Van Horn
Paul W.S. Anderson
Visual effects supervisors