The late, great film critic Gene Siskel had an interesting test for movies: Is the film on-screen as interesting as a documentary would be, on the same subject? Since “Resident Evil” is based on a video game, the comparison is a little different, but I’ll bet the video game is a lot more fun than the film.
The biggest surprise to come out of “Resident Evil” is that this is a zombie movie, right down to its yellow skinned, slime dripping jowls. Watching the trailers you’d think this was a CGI hologram fest, similar to Director Paul Anderson’s (that’s the Soldier Paul Anderson, not the genius “Mangolia” Paul Anderson, in case you were confused) “Event Horizon.” But no, everything old is new again. The characters descend on a disease ravaged hostile and the zombies crawl out of the woodwork to eat their brains.
The film opens in The Hive, a top secret underground lab run by the Umbrella Corp., who, in an “Aliens” homage, end up sacrificing all of their occupants once the tests are completed. Sure enough, a killer virus invades Raccoon City and the corporation’s answer is to seal the place up and either let the employees die from infection, or drown them to death. What did the employees think they were getting into anyway?
Then we cut to a young girl (Milla Jovovich), who wakes up in a mansion above ground zero. There, she and two men are taken by commandoes (one of them played by Michelle Rodriguez),and they all travel to The Hive to find out what happened. There, they encounter killer dogs, killer lasers, an evil supercomputer, a computer generated beast called The Licker, and of course, hordes of zombies.
Okay, so “Resident Evil” is based on a video game and that means it doesn’t have texture, but who cares since all we want to know is whether or not it’s a good barf bag movie. Is it a good barf bag movie? Well, here’s where the movie’s disappointing for a few reasons. First, there’s the characters, none of whom are distinguished. The problem is not that they’re not attractive or charismatic but that they’re all Identikit cutouts from characters in other movies. Rodriguez, the ethnic, tough talking superbitch, a la Vazquez from “Aliens,” finds no humor in her character whatsoever; Jovovich carries her part well physically, but she reminds us too much of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley or more recently, Natasha Henstridge’s strong tough girl from Ghosts of Mars.
“Resident Evil” is a technically impressive horror film and sometimes fun to watch, but totally undistinguished, which would be fine if the film found an interesting way to handle the zombies. What made “Dawn of the Dead” so great was that it treated the zombies as a real bio-hazard, the ultimate garbage if you will. You look around and you might see your husband, and you scream because he’s not really your husband anymore, but what is he, and do you want to keep him alive and experiment and prod his brain for answers? The zombies in “Resident Evil” look great (although I think the stuff they use at McDonald’s to hold milkshakes together still makes for the best zombie slime) but there’s no identification with them. They’re just zombies in the service of competent special effects, when they should be zombies in search of a home, or their loved ones, or the president of the company.