Michelle Rodriguez

Widows (2018, Steve McQueen)

Widows is very real. You know it’s very real and not Hollywood because it takes place in Chicago and it’s real Chicago and not Hollywood Chicago. Though Robert Duvall, who gives a fine performance, does make it feel a little like Hollywood Chicago. But it’s also real because Liam Neeson has nose hairs. And because even as horrific events, plot turns, plot twists, horrific revelations bombard lead (and ostensible protagonist) Viola Davis, she’s able to harness all of them and make it all seem reasonable and not contrived. Because she’s Viola Davis and she’s what makes Widows possible. Without her gravitas, director McQueen and co-screenwriter Gillian Flynn couldn’t get away with half of it.

McQueen and Flynn are adapting a six hour British series. Might explain the episodic plotting, might not. Widows has an expansive plot. Until it doesn’t. There’s a switch thrown somewhere in the middle when McQueen and Flynn stop with the expanding. Once Cynthia Erivo is on the team, everything changes. Including who gets character development. The film’s well-paced enough you don’t even realize a couple characters go on pause and Davis is in the picture less and less after her inital story arc ends. But it also means when the finale comes up short and awkwardly so… well, all of a sudden it’s time to cash in Widows’s chips and McQueen’s been bluffing.

Not to mix metaphors.

The film is about Widows Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carrie Coon. Erivo is actually a babysitter; unfortunately the original British series is not called Four Widows and a Babysitter. The film opens with the women and their men. Then their men, career robbers, all die. Horribly. So now the widows have to figure out what to do, because none of their men left them in good shape financially.

Coon, for instance, has a newborn. She was married to Coburn Goss, who has no personality in his few scenes. Unlike some of the other dead husbands. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a deadbeat who steals all wife Rodriguez’s money. She has a thrift store. Debicki’s husband, Jon Bernthal, is mentally and physically abusive. But mostly physically. And then there’s crew leader Liam Neeson. Charming career robber, known and hated by cops, beloved by crooks, on and on. He’s married to Davis. Her scenes imagining Neeson still with her–nose hairs and all–should be some of Widows’s best moments for McQueen. Instead, he just showcases Davis’s acting and doesn’t do anything else with it. Because Widows is too real.

As such, all mastermind thief Neeson leaves beloved widow Davis is his Moleskine. It’s got the plans to his next job. He also leaves her Garret Dillahunt, driver and boy Friday. Dillahunt’s good. In hindsight, his part should’ve forecasted McQueen and Flynn’s later problems.

Well, turns out Neeson stole from crime brothers Brian Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya. They have an ill-defined criminal empire. Henry is trying to take the family straight, Kaluuya isn’t so sure. Henry’s plan is to get elected alderman. He just needs to beat corrupt public official and Chicago political family guy Colin Farrell. Duvall is Farell’s dad, the outgoing alderman. He had a heart attack or something. Doesn’t matter.

Henry then goes to Davis and tells her he wants the money–for his campaign, which he doesn’t mention–and she’s got a month to get it. She recruits the other widows to pull Neeson’s last job.

Through their new, sometimes dangerous experiences, Rodriguez and Debicki get character development. Well, Debicki gets it. Rodriguez gets a hint of it, then gets shut down. She becomes more functional, bringing in Erivo later on. Erivo who’s actually part of a C plot about small businesses too. McQueen and Flynn is overloaded with texture. Widows has enough material to be twice as long, because either its supporting characters need to get developed or they need to go away. The first act has a bunch of throwaway characters around just to play with expectations.

The texture–very realistic and don’t you dare acknowledge the adorable puppy–works. When Widows is expansive, it’s because of all that texture. Well-written, well-acted, well-directed texture. Narratively pointless because not even Davis can bring enough gravitas to fix a somewhat craven epilogue. McQueen–intentionally–eschews so much of the heist genre for Widows. And when he finally does employ genre narrative tropes, they’re all the bad ones. He’s also trying not to direct the thriller sequences–Kaluuya takes it upon himself to stalk and terrorize Davis in another C plot–but McQueen does a bunch of thriller sequences. And rather well. His narrative instincts are strong and he can do a lot with his cast, but the script’s the script. The twists, the turns, the disappearing characters.

Davis is great, Debicki is great. Rodriguez is good. She doesn’t get enough to do. She doesn’t even get C plots, she just gets to bring in Erivo, who does get a C plot. But Rodriguez is probably in the movie more than Erivo. She’s at least more active in the first act.

Erivo’s good. Again, thin part. Erivo acts the hell out of it.

Farrell ought to be great but his election subplot gets more time in the middle than Davis and crew planning. The whole Farrell thing–which also gets into the Chicago corruption and related institutionalized racism–takes up too much time in the film, which loses track of Davis and skips over Rodriguez. Great acting, great direction of that acting, good part, not great part.

Duvall’s a cameo pretending to be bigger. Henry’s fine. Kaluuya’s good, but the part’s too functional. And has no character development. None of the men get character development. At best they get some revelations. And it’s fine. But it’s thin.

Technically, the film’s perfect. McQueen’s composition, Sean Bobbitt’s photography, Joe Walker’s editing, Adam Stockhausen’s production design. It’s all great. The Hans Zimmer score is good but very functional.

Widows is fine work, with some near exceptional elements. And some particular problems.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve McQueen; screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen, based on the television series written by Lynda La Plante; director of photography, Sean Bobbitt; edited by Joe Walker; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Iain Canning, McQueen, Arnon Milchan, and Emile Sherman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Viola Davis (Veronica), Elizabeth Debicki (Alice), Michelle Rodriguez (Linda), Cynthia Erivo (Belle), Carrie Coon (Amanda), Colin Farrell (Jack Mulligan), Garret Dillahunt (Bash), Daniel Kaluuya (Jatemme Manning), Lukas Haas (David), Brian Tyree Henry (Jamal Manning), Liam Neeson (Harry Rawlings), Jon Bernthal (Florek), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (Carlos), Coburn Goss (Jimmy Nunn), Molly Kunz (Siobhan), Jacki Weaver (Agnieska), Kevin J. O’Connor (Bobby Welsh), Jon Michael Hill (Reverend Wheeler), and Robert Duvall (Tom Mulligan).


The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


Furious 7 (2015, James Wan)

Furious 7 has some really bad CGI. And I’m not talking about the creepy Paul Walker head at the end (during the utterly out of place and terribly integrated memorial sequence). It’s everything. Director Wan doesn’t know how to shoot a single scene in Furious, not the action scenes, definitely not the car scenes, even more not the fight scenes. No one–not Wan, not his four editors, not his two photographers–cares about making the action work in Furious. The CGI doesn’t improve it or solve a physically impractical problem. It’s just the easiest way to do it. Cheap CGI.

Of course, cheap is the keyword for Furious. Screenwriter Chris Morgan has only a handful of scenes not directly related to Kurt Russell (cashing a paycheck as a CIA agent) hiring Vin Diesel and company; those scenes are desperately melodramatic, either involving Michelle Rodriguez’s memory loss, Jordana Brewster not wanting to henpeck Paul Walker too much or… no, I think those two subplots are it.

Even Jason Statham hunting down Diesel, Walker and everyone else is underused. Once Morgan and Wan establish Statham, he just shows up in every action sequence to wreck havoc. What could have been anarchy working through the movie is instead a painfully bad performance from Statham.

Really terrible supporting performances from John Brotherton, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou.

Wan’s a bad director; he sinks Furious. The movie is absurdly mercenary. No imagination went into anything. Except maybe the cars and Wan can’t shoot those.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; directors of photography, Marc Spicer and Stephen F. Windon; edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), John Brotherton (Sheppard), Tony Jaa (Kiet), Djimon Hounsou (Jakande), Ronda Rousey (Kara), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Lucas Black (Sean Boswell) and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


Fast & Furious 6 (2013, Justin Lin), the extended version

For the most part, Fast & Furious 6 is a delightfully absurd action concoction from director Lin. The film drops the Fast and the Furious “family” into a James Bond movie; thank goodness, because it’s hard to imagine Roger Moore able to outdrive the bad guys here. And it’s even set in London (and later Spain). It’s not original, but screenwriter Chris Morgan does fold familiar action movie plot lines into a new situation. Lin’s making a non-fantasy (just absurd), non-realistic action extravaganza. It has to be seen to be believed.

But then there’s how much time is spent on Vin Diesel courting Michelle Rodriguez (she’s back from the dead, with amnesia–apparently Morgan doesn’t just like to lift from Empire Strikes Back, he likes to lift from “Days of Our Lives” too) and Lin handles it pretty well. Some of it. One spinning conversation is terrible, but the car race immediately proceeding it is fantastic work.

The thing about Furious 6 is Lin and photographer Stephen F. Windon do create breathtaking car race and car chase shots; they’re in the quickly edited sequences, but clearly done with deliberate, careful intent. And the car race between Diesel and Rodriguez is phenomenal stuff.

Some good acting from Evans, some bad acting from Gina Carano (though one of her fight scenes with Rodriguez is awesome). Everyone else is fine. Lin manages to get better performance from Dwayne Johnson here too.

Furious 6 is mechanical and superficial, but beautifully made and likable enough.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Kelly Matsumoto, Christian Wagner, Dylan Highsmith, Greg D’Auria and Leigh Folsom Boyd; music by Lucas Vidal; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Sung Kang (Han), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Luke Evans (Shaw), Gina Carano (Riley), John Ortiz (Braga), Shea Whigham (Stasiak), Clara Paget (Vegh) and Elsa Pataky (Elena).


Fast & Furious (2009, Justin Lin)

With Fast & Furious, director Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan do something incredible. They take what, a decade before would have been at best a video game spin-off (maybe featuring the original, now down in their career cast's voices), and make an energetically mercenary movie out of it. The film's ludicrous at almost every turn, but it's hard not to appreciate a huge budget in CGI being spent on car chase after car chase.

Oh, there are some real cars racing, but Lin apes the conclusion to Return of the Jedi for the finale–just with cars. It's entirely admirable and entirely pointless. There's not an honest moment in the entire movie, everything is perfectly calculated to entertain. The film gets too loud and almost too busy–Gal Gadot's useless character is in the not really bad bad Bond girl part–seemingly because Vin Diesel wants a lot of tear jerker scenes to be a tough guy during.

Lin doesn't want to hold a shot–he's clearly more into Michael Bay for car chase inspiration than Billy Friedkin–but his composition is good and Amir Mokri does a fine job shooting the film. The real car racing footage looks great. All the composite CGI stuff is a little too obvious, but it's a video game, you're not supposed to care.

The film does require a certain enthusiasm for Diesel and Paul Walker's bromance; Lin gets a surprisingly okay performance from Walker.

Like I said, big, loud, dumb, sometimes perfectly amiable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Ida Random; produced by Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel and Michael Fottrell; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), John Ortiz (Campos), Laz Alonso (Fenix), Sung Kang (Han), Tego Calderon (Tego), Gal Gadot (Gisele), Jack Conley (Penning), Liza Lapira (Trinh), Shea Whigham (Stasiak) and Don Omar (Don Omar).


Los Bandoleros (2009, Vin Diesel)

The strange part of Los Bandoleros isn’t how it ends lame–it’s how well it starts. Sure, there’s this dumb story about how Vin Diesel, on the lamb in the Dominican Republic, has become a Robin Hood to the local people.

Oh, right, forgot–It’s a Fast and the Furious vanity short “film” from Diesel. Undoubtedly something the studio did to make him happy.

Anyway, besides the stupid club scene and the foreshadowing for the subsequent action movie and, most of all, besides Michelle Rodriguez… Diesel’s got a not bad eye for his location shooting in the Dominican Republic. He’s got a great photographer (Shawn Kim) and, even though the script is really contrived, at least the pre-franchise stuff works.

It’s pretentious, sure, with Diesel telling the story of the little people, but the movie looks great. But looking great isn’t enough to make up for Rodriguez’s vapid performance.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Vin Diesel; written by Diesel and T.J. Mancini; director of photography, Shawn Kim; edited by Justin Bourret and Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez; production designer, Wilhem Perez; produced by Diesel and Jessy Terrero; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz), Sung Kang (Han Lue), Tego Calderon (Tego Leo), Don Omar (Santos), F. Valentino Morales (Malo), Mirtha Michelle (Mirtha) and Juan Fernández (Elvis).


The Fast and the Furious (2001, Rob Cohen)

An undercover cop (Paul Walker) finds himself drawn into a criminal underworld with a charismatic leader (Vin Diesel)! There’s not much original about The Fast and the Furious. What the screenwriters don’t lift out of Point Break, there’s director Cohen grabbing car chase related moments out of Lethal Weapon 3 and so on. Well, Cohen also does have a neat Duel reference too.

Oh, right. I should try to discuss The Fast and the Furious, not just list all the other movies it rips off.

Diesel’s fine. Walker’s bad. Michelle Rodriguez’s bad. No one else leaves an impression. Except Ted Levine, who should know better.

The movie has this strange disconnect between Cohen’s more traditional cops and robbers bro-mance and the pervasive, overbearing soundtrack. Whole sequences are just set to a song, seemingly chosen just because it’s loud and sounds cool. Peter Honess’s editing is deaf to the corresponding songs; even if they match the narrative, Honess can’t figure out where to cut them. The first half of the movie feels entirely different from the second, mostly because BT’s sentimental score completely replaces the Top 40 selections.

Another interesting disconnect is the one between how Cohen visualizes the race scenes and how the script talks about them. Diesel gets a long monologue about how it feels to drive and Cohen’s best idea for visualizing the experience is to make it play like a sci-fi movie. Time slows down and there’s bullet-time.

But time is just a magazine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Cohen; screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer, based on a story by Thompson and a magazine article by Ken Li; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Peter Honess; music by BT; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; produced by Neal H. Moritz; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto), Rick Yune (Johnny Tran), Chad Lindberg (Jesse), Johnny Strong (Leon), Matt Schulze (Vince), Noel Gugliemi (Hector), Vyto Ruginis (Harry), Thom Barry (Agent Bilkins) and Ted Levine (Sgt. Tanner).


Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I’m not sure what subtitle Resident Evil: Retribution should have, but it definitely shouldn’t be Retribution. The movie really doesn’t have enough story for a subtitle, actually. Unless it’s Old Friends. For the ten year anniversary of the franchise, director Anderson brings back a bunch of old faces–Sienna Guillory and Michelle Rodriguez get the two biggest parts (while Oded Fehr and Colin Salmon get the smallest). Anderson does come up with a good reason to bring them back, he just doesn’t know how to turn it into a story.

Retribution mostly alternates between good fight scenes and painful exposition scenes. Anderson’s got enough money (or CG’s less expensive) so he doesn’t do the regular exposition tricks the franchise used to do on the cheap. Instead there’re long patches of characters spouting exposition, usually either Li Bingbing or Shawn Roberts. Sadly those actors are the worst in the film.

The music, from tomandandy, occasionally compliments the action well but it’s usually just loud and annoying. Good production values though–Kevin Phipps’s production design and Glen MacPherson’s photography in particular.

Anderson opens the film with a great reverse sequence, really showcasing the effects and his vision for the picture. Unfortunately, once it’s over, he changes visions. Then he changes them again. And again. And… well, you get the idea.

He finally decides on star Milla Jovovich having a complicated relationship with an orphan (Aryana Engineer) and it works. He just decided too late.

Retribution‘s tedious, but not without good moments.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Niven Howie; music by tomandandy; production designer, Kevin Phipps; produced by Don Carmody, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Aryana Engineer (Becky), Li Bingbing (Ada Wong), Boris Kodjoe (Luther West), Johann Urb (Leon S. Kennedy), Robin Kasyanov (Sergei), Kevin Durand (Barry Burton), Ofilio Portillo (Tony), Oded Fehr (Carlos), Colin Salmon (One) and Shawn Roberts (Albert Wesker).


Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I have a mild affection for Paul W.S. Anderson–or, at least, I think he gets a bad rap. I’ve never been able to easy prove it before, but Resident Evil certainly helps my argument for Anderson’s effectiveness as a director. The film opens with a nine or so minute tease, establishing the situation, then goes into a disoriented and, we soon learn, amnesiac Milla Jovovich waking up in a big empty house and walking about in various states of half-dress. In these scenes–which are spooky–Anderson does a fantastic job; his composition is a nice (really, nice, nice is the word I’m using) mix of Carpenter and Kubrick. Just before the sequence ends (or, more accurately, further develops), he’s got this spooky shot of leaves twirling around. It’s beautifully done and when it turns out to be a helicopter landing, well, something about that ruse is quite good.

Unfortunately, Anderson made some bad decisions with actors. Not casting in all circumstances (all but one, really), but in forcing his mostly English cast to adopt “American” accents. Nothing really happens for the first half hour of Resident Evil, some teases at scariness and a little expository dialogue; even the first big action scene is lackluster, because it’s just churning. You can practically hear the movie spinning up… zombie movies do not have big casts and until Resident Evil gets itself manageable, it doesn’t really get going. During the twenty or so minutes, after the opening tease and before the ignition’s started, Michelle Rodriguez really manages to annoy beyond any reasonable conception of the term. She’s terrible. Awful. When, at the end of the film, her character is sympathetic, there’s the proof for Anderson as an effective action film director. I didn’t know if I could get through her “acting.” The scenes with her and Pasquale Aleardi, who has the excuse of not being a native English speaker for his terrible line-delivery, are among the more painful moments ever filmed. Also unfortunate is Colin Salmon, who fails when it comes to his American accent–fails terribly. Salmon’s usually good too and he’s an Anderson regular, so the misuse is surprising. James Purefoy is okay for most of the film, only losing the accent at the end, but I think he’s quiet for a lot of his scenes. Martin Crewes is another accent faker, but he’s good. Eric Mabius is fine, maybe even good in most of his scenes, but he’s got a silly haircut. The shock of Resident Evil is Milla Jovovich. At first, I thought her good performance was due to the amnesia… but then she kept going and being good, which was unbelievable.

Anderson’s template for Resident Evil isn’t so much any zombie movie, but instead Aliens; just imagine it towards the end when most of the cast are gone and the aliens are everywhere. There’s some really stupid stuff–it is a Paul W.S. Anderson movie after all–like the soldiers not going for head shots off the bat, none of the characters being introduced, so their names always come as a surprise–I don’t think Jovovich is ever clearly named in the film, which is kind of silly, since there’s some sort of Alice in Wonderland reference going on. The music’s annoying, but occasionally it works rather well.

When, towards the end, Anderson actually manages to wrap up his amnesia thing, his monster on the loose thing, two revelations and some other stuff–all while actually making the characters’ plight vibrate–it’s when Resident Evil works the best. Oddly, the predictable ending isn’t even annoying, instead it’s gratifying, because of the film’s self-confidence.

I’m actually not completely surprised by Resident Evil, as I figured it’d be watchable (as Anderson tends to be), but I’m at least seventy-percent surprised, since the whole thing hinges on Jovovich and she pulled it off.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; written by Anderson, from a story by Alan McElroy and Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Alexander Berner; music by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Eric Mabius (Matt), James Purefoy (Spence), Martin Crewes (Kaplan), Pasquale Aleardi (J.D.) and Colin Salmon (One).


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