It's been 13 months and 295 preview screenings since I last walked out on a movie ("Series 7: The Contenders," it was called), but "Resident Evil" really earned my indignant, preemptive departure.
A plotless wonder of unmitigated noise, cheap scares and endless rounds of ammunition, this sci-fi zombies-and-gore cinematic calamity is based on a video game of the same name. The only thing positive I can say about it is that the picture's structure is true to its roots: it gets harder (to watch) one level of carnage at time.
After an unexplained biological weapons accident in a secret underground lab complex run by one of those evil movie mega-conglomerate corporations, the whole joint is locked down by the mainframe computer called Red Queen, which then goes HAL 9000 on the workers, killing everyone. Some are drown in their airtight labs, others are gassed -- but not before they've all been infected by the experimental "T-virus," which turns them into...the undead.
Meanwhile, a sexy amnesiac (Milla Jovovich), who slowly remembers her butt-kickin' super security-agent past, is dragged along for no apparent reason by a heavily armed assault force as it infiltrates the complex to shut down the Red Queen. Picked off one-by-one in a thoroughly predictable order by either the computer (by way of body-slicing lasers) or the George Romero-quality ghoulies (chomp, chomp!), the commandos have to fight their way in to the computer core, then out of the compound.
Entirely dependent on movie theaters' 150-decible sound systems for its thrills and jolts, "Resident Evil" can't even manage the simple task of story continuity. Scores of zombies disappear and reappear as if scenes have been spliced together from scraps on the cutting room floor. The zombies can't be stopped with guns, but when it's convenient for the script, 105-pound girls can punch them out cold. Characters often wander off on their own without explanation and without anyone in the dwindling group noticing they're gone. They'll have a run-in with, say, blood-covered, undead Doberman pinschers, then bolt back to the commandos with zombies magically popping up out of thin air to pursue them.
As writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson has proven in the game-spawn "Mortal Kombat" and the similarly imbecilic sci-fi splatter fiasco "Event Horizon," he cares little about anything beyond gross-out effects and slick production values. Apply even a modicum of common sense to any given scene in this clunker, and the whole plot crumbles. Vacant sneers are the closest thing you'll find to acting coming from the cast of B-players (Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy). Turn the sound down below ear-piercing, headache-inducing level and "Resident Evil" loses what meager ability it might have had to terrorize.
As for entertainment value, there were people in the preview audience who seemed to enjoy the movie -- they were the type who cheer during decapitations. If that's as high as your standards go, "Resident Evil" may be your cup of tea. But I bailed out after an hour to go home and cleanse my palate with "Aliens." That character-driven but hair-raising, infinitely superior futuristic action-horror flick was obviously where Anderson pilfered most of this picture's story arch.
If you want a tough chick leading cannon-fodder commandos in ammo-exhausting battles with unstoppable, man-eating monsters, there's just no point in trying to top Ellen Ripley.