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By Pete Vonder Haar | September 11, 2004

Spoilers Ahead

Critically speaking, movies based on video games always start on a disadvantageous position. Let’s face it: when your best films for comparison are “Super Mario Bros.,” “Street Fighter,” and “Wing Commander,” expectations are understandably lowered. Hell, even the first Resident Evil was a mixed bag. It had its moments, but most of them came after a solid 45 minutes of snooze, and what interesting scenes there were seemed inserted simply for the purpose of looking cool (the decapitating laser grid), rather than making any kind of narrative sense. In spite (or perhaps because) of this, the original enjoyed moderate box office success, but nobody figured “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” – second in what appears to be an ongoing series based on Capcom’s popular zombie horror games – would break new cinematic ground. And it doesn’t. “Apocalypse” is dumb, loud, and ludicrous in the extreme, and I actually enjoyed it.

As we’re all well aware, Alice (Milla Jovovich) was one of only two people who survived the horrors of the original “Resident Evil.” Her reward: a regimen of invasive T-virus probing, courtesy of the ruthless Umbrella Corporation, who end up making her into a better, stronger, and faster supermodel. This proves to be good timing, because those Umbrella guys are about as dumb as they are evil, and they end up releasing the virus from the confines of the Hive (the corporation’s underground laboratory complex) into the pastoral environs of Raccoon City (up there with “Zardon” from the Atari 2600 version of Missile Command for dumbest video game location names ever). As the virus spreads, residents fall victim to its zombifying effects, the city is quarantined, and Alice is inexplicably woken up and released among the undead hordes wearing nothing but a lab coat and a grimace.

She’s not the only one invited to this dead man’s party. Remember Matt from the first movie? He survived too, but the T-virus mutated him into the frightful Nemesis, a 7-foot monstrosity armed with a mini gun and a rocket launcher. The company sets Nemesis loose for the noble purpose of testing its awesome destructive powers on as many ill-fated humans and plate glass windows as possible.

Of course, normal people have been trapped in Raccoon City as well. There’s Jill Valentine – disgraced member of the Special Tactics and Rescue Services (S.T.A.R.S.) team; Terri Morales – intrepid local reporter; Carlos Olivera – corporate soldier; and L.J. – the jive-talking hustler (because where would a horror movie be without one?). Alice ends up joining the group (in a sequence that is simultaneously jaw-droppingly dumb and fantastically insane), who are tasked by Umbrella scientist Charles Ashford (Jared Harris) to find his missing daughter Angela. In return, he’ll get them out of the city before Umbrella drops a nuke on it (which worked so well in Return of the Living Dead, after all).

It was during that previously mentioned scene, where Jovovich rides through a stained glass window on a motorcycle and lays waste to a couple of “lickers” (nasty mutations with elongated tongues and huge talons), that I realized writer Paul W.S. Anderson and director Alexander Witt had elected to forego anything resembling respectable filmmaking. Oh, I know, adding zombies to the mix always ratchets down the authenticity of your mise-en-scene, but “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” isn’t really a zombie movie. There are undead flesh eaters in it, sure, but Anderson and Witt are obviously trying to develop a narrative spanning several films, no matter how flimsy the transitions. The character of Alice is meant for some great destiny, with all the video game trappings of the Resident Evil franchise merely offered as garnish for hardcore RE players.

Don’t get me wrong, Sienna Guillory is note perfect as Jill Valentine, and fans of the game will recognize the locales, certain characters (Carlos and Nicholai), and other visual treats sprinkled throughout. Alice is the focus, however, and when you have a character who could take on Lara Croft and Chun-Li at the same time – and win – you quickly drop the lurking horror façade in favor of maximum badassitude

This is not to say that “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” isn’t clichéd (elite S.T.A.R.S. operative Valentine insists they need to “split up” to search for Angela, effectively signing one of the character’s death warrants), or laughable (yes, Alice does run down the side of a building, and she does pin a licker under a giant crucifix), or predictable (does anyone doubt that Alice and Nemesis enjoy a climactic face-off?), but no one seems to care. Put another way, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is sublimely ridiculous. For the first time in many a moon, I found myself taking the advice of the scores of moviegoers out there who’ve exhorted me to “turn my brain off” when watching a film. With my cerebral cortex happily idling in neutral, I found that I didn’t mind the unerring aim of our heroes, or the unbelievably loud sound effects (every gunshot is like a howitzer), or the utter lack of government or media scrutiny (it would appear Raccoon City is the modern day equivalent of those turn-of-the-century Appalachian mining towns). I didn’t wonder why Jill felt the best outfit for battling zombie armageddon was a tube top and miniskirt, nor did I question Dr. Ashford’s hacking of Umbrella’s mainframe with a web search. If I had, I believe my rectum would have spontaneously prolapsed.

As the movie ended, it became apparent that the minds behind the “Resident Evil” franchise have their sights set on an ongoing series of over-the-top action films. And given the relatively low cost required to crank these babies out, I think they’re going to succeed. Just don’t ask me to watch any more of them, as I’m pretty sure I’ve used up a decade’s allotment of “popcorn movie” rationalization in giving this one a decent review.

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