In the new film by the Hughes Brothers (“From Hell”), it’s 30 years post-apocalypse and things are hella not cool, you guys. The world is a scorched junkyard full of pockmarked and be-goggled road warriors ready to rape, pillage and eat you. Apparently, this is what the world looks like without God. Fortunately, there’s also this dude named Eli (Denzel Washington) who heard a voice in his head giving him a mission. He’s got a keen sense of his senses and therefore has no trouble taking out any number of bad guys all by his lonesome and in record time. Of course, he’d rather not if he can help it. All’s he wants to do is get this very special book “west” like the nice voice asked him to. But wouldn’t you know it, there’s another man with designs on the book and he isn’t going to make it easy for Eli.
The first 30 minutes of “The Book of Eli” set the scene. You’ve got your standard decayed America, full of billboard ruins and skeletons in stalled cars. Our titular protagonist wanders around killing cats for their cosmetic properties and scoring precious commodities like shoes and wet wipes off of dead bodies. He camps in abandoned houses and makes friends with rats to break up the monotony. Though, as bad as things are, he still has a working iPod. He is an old man by modern standards. One of the few left who remembers how “things were before.” Perhaps it’s because he’s so old that it’s taken him 30 years to walk 3000 miles.
Eventually, he stumbles across a lawless frontier town and stops to replenish supplies. Unfortunately, he chooses the wrong lawless frontier town in which to make a pit stop. Run by a sort of Future Al Swearengen named Carnegie (Gary Oldman), it makes Deadwood look like a country club. Carnegie has been desperately searching for the very book that Eli carries. It’s “a book of power” that he “grew up with” and provides “the right words for our faith.” (Can you guess what this book might be? Hint: It’s not “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.) All of the copies, save one, were burned after the war because some determined the book to be the cause of this whole mess (go figure). Carnegie says he can use the book as a weapon to control the weak-minded. Carnegie is supposed to be the bad guy, but he sure says a lot of things that make sense.
When Carnegie discovers that Eli carries the book in question, he sets his team of cronies (led by an underused Ray Stevenson) on him. Choosing to join Eli is Carnegie’s stepdaughter, Solara (Mila Kunis), a prostitute who also happens to be the most beautiful girl in the world. How she maintains such a flawless complexion in a time without lotion is a genetic marvel. If you ask me, her beauty secrets are the real Holy Grail. But instead they insist on focusing on the book.
The whole movie feels a bit like a squandered opportunity. We didn’t really need another post-apocalyptic story, but if you’re going to do it, and get Gary Oldman to play the bad guy, you could try and be a little more creative. Instead, it’s all pretty cookie-cutter from the washed-out tones to the wardrobe to the passages of scripture that Eli spouts before kicking a*s. I suppose the “twist” ending is supposed to make up for the cliché, but instead it seems silly and rather unresolved. I also left the theatre feeling a little conned, as though a colleague invited me to a “party” that actually ended up being a bible study (with no beer at all!). I’m not sure what, exactly, the Hughes Brothers wanted to accomplish with “The Book of Eli”, but I’m pretty sure Mel Gibson and Kirk Cameron would approve.