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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 25th July 2002:

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, if you’re a film director and your name is Paul Anderson. Paul Anderson is an auteur, responsible for my absolute favourite film of at least the last five years, Magnolia. Paul Anderson is also a derivative, unsubtle genre director who has carved out a gory niche for himself as a purveyor of deafening, blood-spattered cobblers.

Confused? Well, there’s two of them, isn’t there, and it seems that steps are now being taken to stop them sullying each other’s hard-won reputations. The reigning genius of American indie now goes under the name of PT Anderson, while on his latest offering, Resident Evil, the UK schlockmeister is billed as Paul WS Anderson. Phew, that’s that sorted out…

If only Resident Evil could be fixed so easily… This is a SF-action-horror pic based on a series of computer games (not that I’m familiar with them) and boy, it shows. It all kicks off with the escape of a virus at a top-security research centre, causing the central computer to lock all the doors and gas the trapped staff to death (thus probably disqualifying the owners from the Employer of the Year award). This is moderately well-staged, the only problem being that the audience doesn’t know who any of the characters are, making it difficult to care about them.

We then get to meet leggy supermodel Milla Jovovich, whose movie career to date has mostly been a trail of big-budget carnage, such is her unerring instinct for starring in rubbish. Milla (her character doesn’t appear to have a name) wakes up in the shower of a vast mansion with amnesia and some never-explained scars. No sooner has she slipped into a mini-dress and leather boots than the place is stormed by a bunch of lads and lasses in body armour waving automatic weapons. There’s a secret tube station under the mansion, y’see, and on the train is a guy who’s Milla’s pretend-husband who also has amnesia, and the train goes straight to the research centre from the start of the film…

Confusing? You betcha it is! It all gets explained eventually although even then it never makes much sense. It turns out Milla is some sort of secret agent who works for the corporation that runs the lab complex, and she and the guys with guns have to go in there and switch the central computer off, little realising that the computer is the one thing holding the disgruntled ex-employees (who are all now zombies) in check. Oh, and there’s this really badly animated monster in the basement that inevitably gets let out…

For all that it’s an adaptation of a video game; this is a very Paul (WS) Anderson movie. This is a bit odd as his other films have all been very derivative, his trademark style relying on pinching other people’s best bits, laying a deafening techno beat over them and indulging himself in his own uniquely sledgehammery kind of suspense cinema. This is very much Aliens meets Day of the Dead (with odd bits that are reminiscent of Anderson’s own Event Horizon), even down to the characters – Milla plays the Ripley-ish anti-corporate ballsy heroine, Colin Salmon plays the token coloured officer who might as well have ‘cannon fodder’ written across his chest, there’s a traitor, a nervous technician, etc, etc, all crayoned in great detail. The only one who transcends the by-the-numbers scripting is the delightfully sulky Michelle Rodriguez in the ‘butch hispanic gun-bunny’ role pioneered by Jenette Goldstein in Aliens.

Resident Evil has three main problems: it’s clich├ęd, it looks cheap and it’s very poorly scripted. I think the intention was to plunge the audience into a breathlessly kinetic roller coaster ride of a film, without wasting a lot of time on things like characterisation and background. This has the obvious drawback that without characterisation and background you’re left with a bunch of ciphers wandering around corridors, and the audience neither knows nor cares what’s going on1.

But it’s not like there aren’t some striking moments: Milla kickboxing a pack of rabid zombie Dobermans (still, of course, in her mini-dress and leather boots) has justly received a lot of attention. Well, actually, that’s the only striking moment that leaps to mind (there’s a nice bit of stuck-in-a-lift business near the start, I suppose), but most of the time I was captivated by the fact that one of the characters bore an uncanny resemblance to Brit tennis no-hoper Tim Henman. As Tim’s character’s presence in the film was not explained until very late on this brought a welcome air of mystery, not mention absurdity, to an otherwise predictable movie. Put together, Tim, Milla’s boots and Rodriguez’s sulk greased the pill enough to make this film an enjoyable piece of unintended comedy, rather than the piece of low-budget low-brain zero-script trash it by rights should have been.

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