One might say that the world of zombie cinema is experiencing a lush renaissance, a genre rife with sub-styles that truly run the gamut, from the artsy “28 Days Later” to the intelligent campy remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” So Alexander Witt’s aptly named “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” comes to the scene at the right time, but it is unfortunately a zombie itself. The movie is a virulent outbreak of cinema — one that should remain hidden in some dark vault. But, tragically, it escapes and terrorizes the audience with its numb cliches and paper-thin story. Run, don’t walk, before it’s too late.
Let’s start with introductions. First off, there’s Alice, the leggy zombie survivor from the original (yes, this is a sequel — no, that shouldn’t be used as an excuse). Alice, played with perfect delivery by former model Milla Jovovich, awakens in a hospital bed loaded with syringes, wearing a sheet of paper (write this down J. Lo, it’s a promising Oscar dress). While we might know that from the last movie, thankfully, Witt makes its viewing completely unnecessary with the aide of a terrible computer-animated intro sequence. Here, we see Milla candidly speak of how the Umbrella Corporation of Raccoon City (I’m not making this up) has developed a new cell reanimation serum that, surprise, turns people into crazed brain-hungry zombies.
Although the serum was contained to the Hive (the underground, top-secret facility of the Umbrella Corp) and subdued, it has now spread to the densely populated city. Terror ensues. To quarantine the spreading outbreak of the undead, a fleet of men-in-black dart around the city in SUVs to collect precious intellectual cargo — namely chief scientist, Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris), who engineered the virus. However, the suits make one mistake — they lose his daughter in the city. And daddy doesn’t want his girl or her gimmicky British accent to be carpaccio for her reanimated lunch lady. Enter the randomly assembled recovery team.
Now every zombie connoisseur can recognize the need for a crack team of survivalists, but since when has the team looked and acted like a season of “The Real World?” Headed by Alice and Jill Valentine (a brooding Sienna Guillory who kicks ass in an outfit stolen from Britney Spears), the group is a museum of refreshingly predictable characters (the Asian newscaster, the token black guy, etc.). Perhaps the movie is conscious of its cliches and even laughs at its own parodies, but, with dialogue like, “I’ve seen what happens, there’s no going back!” one must wonder if a zombie’s quest for brains in the movie is a futile endeavor.
To give the movie a crumb of credit, however, it does introduce new variations and concepts into the genre. First off, there’s Nemesis — a towering, sinewy mutant with a knack for dumb grunts and obvious prosthetics. While both Alice and he, formerly Matt from the original, were infected with the virus, she evolved and he turned into a DKE brother. Although the idea of a Neolithic superhuman with a machine gun has its potential entertainment value, he’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Instead of appearing menacing, he instead looks like one of the characters that roams Universal Studios, readily available for a family picture or an autograph.
However, Nemesis is only the beginning. The movie has a plethora of zombie gimmicks that are sure to pique your interest (zombie Dobermans! zombie schoolchildren! topless zombie strippers!). In fact, the movie is only truly scary when it sticks to its human core. The director diligently labors to terrify you with slimy red human toads, Nemesis, and crazed canines. And yet, all of the above are so obviously digital that they attain a kind of incredulity and comic value. While the director’s efforts to abstract the scare-factor of zombies into blaring shrieks and nebulous camera shots attain a scare or two, the approach becomes formulaic and two-dimensional.
Perhaps the main flaw of the movie is that it doesn’t attempt to reach a depth beyond that of the videogame, whose storyline reads like Tolstoy in comparison to the movie’s. While no one is expecting profound reflection, if the zombie’s aren’t scary, and the effects are amazingly lame, what else is there? With its fast-paced editing and overuse of animation, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” should remain an experience reserved for only zombie diehards and those that missed the 10:30 showing of “Vanity Fair.” To be fair though, the movie did have its redeeming qualities. Did I mention the zombie strippers?