Dir: Paul W S Anderson. UK-Ger. 2002. 100mins.
Resident Evil is strictly for the game boys. Of course, given that the computer games on which the film is based have sold more than 16m units worldwide, the game boys - lured by the promise of gory zombie effects and Milla Jovovich as an action babe in a mini-skirt - may well turn out in sufficient numbers to turn the $40m production into at least a moderate success. Broader audiences, however, are likely to find this neo B-movie sci-fi/horror outing lacking not just in coherent drama and characterisation but in truly exciting action as well.
Written and directed by Paul W S Anderson (who made successful game adaptation Mortal Kombat) and shot in Berlin by European co-production partners, the film does attempt to cater to a non-gaming audience, inventing its own characters and shaping its action as an explanatory prequel to the games themselves. And things start out promisingly enough, with a taut first 20 minutes in which the employees of a vast underground genetic research facility are mysteriously slaughtered and an exotic woman (Jovovich) wakes up with amnesia in a spookily isolated mansion. But after the woman is whisked off to the research facility - "the Hive" - by commandos and identified as Alice, a security agent for Hive operator the Umbrella Corporation, the film begins to turn into a muddle of murky action and arcane plot 'rules' (derived from the internal rules of the games).
The Hive, it turns out, has been hit by a deadly viral outbreak and is now controlled by in-house supercomputer the Red Queen. Alice and the team - comprising requisite angry bitch Rain (Rodriguez, from The Fast And The Furious and Girlfight) and several rather wimpy, clearly dispensable males - have three hours to sort out the trouble. But before they can complete their mission and leave the Hive they must negotiate their escape with the Red Queen and cope with a series of deadly obstacles, including a pack of mutant dogs, hordes of flesh-eating zombies (the now 'undead' Umbrella employees) and a vicious mutant creature known as the Licker.
The plot sounds confusing on paper and it soon becomes - for non-aficionados of the game at least - tiresomely mind-boggling on screen. The confusion might have been forgivable had the film's other elements worked well. But the action sequences, confined by the dark, cramped corridors of the Hive, are too hard to follow to generate much in the way of thrills, and the film's monstrous villains are too cheesily realised to be genuinely scary. The zombies, in particular, come across like refugees from a George Romero spoof (The Night Of The Living Dead director was reportedly attached to direct Resident Evil before Anderson came on board).
Surprisingly, the film also fails to make much use of rising star Jovovich. Whereas last summer's game-derived blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider exploited Angelina Jolie's screen presence to the full, Resident Evil gives Jovovich just a couple of vaguely sexy scenes and a handful of martial arts-flavoured action moments in which to strut her stuff. The Fifth Element star appears for most of the film as just another member of the commando team, only emerging as a commanding figure towards the end of the action.
Among Resident Evil's few other positive elements are some nice design touches by Richard Bridgland (Gangster No 1) and a sometimes moody, sometimes juddering score by Marco Beltrami (Scream and Mimic) and shock-rock star Marilyn Manson.
Prod cos: Constantin Film, New Legacy Film, Davis Films, Impact Pictures.
Dist: Screen Gems (US), Pathe (UK), Constantin Film (Ger), Davis Films (rest of Europe)
Int'l sales: Intermedia
Prods: Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Jeremy Bolt, Paul W S Anderson
Exec prods: Robert Kulzer, Victor Hadida, Daniel Kletzky, Yoshiki Okamoto
Scr: Paul W S Anderson
Cinematography: David Johnson
Prod and costume des: Richard Bridgland
Ed: Alexander Berner
Music: Marco Beltrami, Marilyn Manson
Main cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Colin Salmon, Martin Crewes