Producer-director-writer Paul W.S. Anderson’s unstoppable spinoffs of “Resident Evil,” the megahit humans vs. zombies video-game franchise, continues with “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” It offers the full grab bag of “Matrix”-y effects thrown at your eyeballs over and over again accompanied by a head-pounding fusion of hard rock and techno. In fact, during many scenes in “Afterlife,” I wasn’t sure whether to watch Milla Jovovich do leaps and somersaults in slo-mo while firing bullets and bathed in droplets of rain, or just get up and dance to the soundtrack.
Unsurprisingly, “Afterlife” is being released in both 2D and 3D versions; I saw the 3D, which adds nothing qualitatively to the experience. While if offers some genuinely clever touches initially, “Afterlife” loses steam once Anderson becomes less interested in the story at hand and more on wrapping it up, making sure to set up another sequel.
In terms of visual design, the movie’s opening set inside the expansively futuristic headquarters of the evil Umbrella Corporation (the company that perpetrated the zombie virus) impresses most. Here, Alice (Milla Jovovich), a human with all the emotional register of a mannequin, confronts the company’s CEO, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) – he’s the one sporting the shades and the bad Brit accent – in a no-holds-barred battle that begins indoors and ends in a plane crash from which Alice escapes. Thereafter, the bulk of “Afterlife” follows Alice and cohort Claire’s (Ali Larter) attempts to lead a group of survivors, holed up in a high-rise L.A. prison, to a tanker ship believed to be a safe haven from zombies, just offshore. The sections inside the prison work best as the survivors – ranging from the rangy, Will Smith-esque ex-basketball player Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) to the reptilian movie producer, Bennett (Kim Coates). Anderson, thankfully, slows the story enough to take advantage of his premise’s horror-movie and survivalist drama tropes as issues of betrayal, trust and camaraderie boil to the surface, and suspicions arise that the zombies may be tunneling their way in.
Once the zombies overrun the prison, “Afterlife” switches to action-movie gear from which it never returns, culminating in a finale that’s a pale rehash of the opening. The occasional flashes of imagination aside, “Afterlife” epitomizes what movies written largely by software and marketing committees look like. Diehard fans of the franchise and genre enthusiasts may flock to it, but on its own merits, the movie offers little. To say it’s nothing more than a crass merchandising gimmick would be to acknowledge Hollywood’s openly cynical attitude to story telling and the film business in general. And what’s the point of that?
Directed by: Paul W. S. Anderson
Written by: Paul W. S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere