Saturday, September 18, 2010


Spectacular 3-D visual effects, larger-than-life action situations, and audacious characters make the fifth entry in the “Resident Evil” franchise a lot of fun. Virtually everybody is referring to “Resident Evil: Afterlife” (*** out of ****) as the fourth entry. Basically, with some justification, each is ignoring director Makoto Kamiya’s “Resident Evil: Degeneration.” Mind you, “Resident Evil: Degeneration” was an animated epic without Alice as the chief protagonist, and it went straight-to-video when Sony released it back in 2008. As far as I’m considered, Sony scraped the bottom of the biohazard barrel with “Resident Evil: Degeneration.” Nothing about it was remotely memorable. Meanwhile, “Death Race” director Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the helm with the latest entry “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” For the record, Anderson directed the original “Resident Evil” (2002) and has penned all four of the live-action features as well as served as producer. “Resident Evil: Afterlife” qualifies as a crisp, invigorating, 97-minute actioneer never wears out its welcome. The digital 3-D prints are scintillating to see. When the butt-kicking heroic babe charges the camera and hurls those ninja throwing stars, you want to dodge them. Meaning, Sony Pictures produced the movie in 3-D. Lately, some studios have simply converted a 2-D movie into 3-D, and the movie looks terrible. This is not the case with “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”

This action-packed post-apocalyptic zombie flick unfolds in Tokyo. An outbreak of the T-virus devastates the capital city of Japan. By the time that practically everybody is dead, the Umbrella Corporation posts snipers to pick off wandering zombies. Without warning, the Umbrella snipers begin to die. Of course, Alice with her samurai sword is at work, and she brings multiple clones of herself armed with Heckler and Koch MP-5 submachine guns. Initially, she kills close to 500 soldiers at the Umbrella Corporation’s underground headquarters and targets the evil Umbrella Corporation Chairman Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts of “Edge of Darkness”) who manages to escape in a twin-engine helicopter with wings. The real Alice sneaks aboard to kill him and he drains her of the mutant resources that the T-virus instilled in her. Basically, Alice goes back to being a mortal. Wesker, who has been infected by the virus, is struggling to control the effects of the T-virus, and he needs what has been rolling around in Alice’s system. Suddenly, the hover chopper jet that Wesker escaped in from the Tokyo Headquarters crashes on a mountainside. Miraculously, Alice survives. She sets off to find her friends, Claire Redfield (Ali Larter of “Final Destination”) and K-Mart (Spencer Locke of “Spanglish”), who flew off in helicopters to Alaska to find safety at a place called Arcadia. The catch is that Arcadia is a super tanker operated by the Umbrella Corporation. and they capture everybody who left the desert in the previous film “Resident Evil: Extinction.” The Umbrella henchmen slap a ruby red spider-like contraption onto their chests that robs them of their memory. Claire managed to escape, but K-Mart and over two thousand others were imprisoned to be used in more Umbrella experiments. Alice commandeers a propeller-driven plane, flies to Alaska and finds Claire. The ruby red spider like device on Claire’s chest has wiped out her memory, and Claire tries to kill Alice when they first met.

Together Alice and Claire wind up flying to Los Angeles. The city of Angels stands in cinders and only seven people have survived. They are holed up in a skyscraper prison, and zombies have laid siege to the building. Alice wings her way in and makes a cliffhanger landing on the prison roof. She almost overshoots the roof. By now, Claire has regained her memory. They meet a sleazy movie producer Bennett (Kim Coates of “Waterworld”), Bennett’s intern Kim Yong (newcomer Norman Yeung), basketball superstar Luther West (Boris Kodjoe of “Surrogates”), Angel Ortiz (Sergio Peris-Mencheta of “Love Ranch”), aspiring actress Crystal (Kacey Barnfield of “Popcorn”), and Wendell (Fulvio Cecere of “Watchmen”). Initially, they believe Alice and Claire have come to fly them to the nearby supertanker Arcadia. The supertanker is visible from the top of the prison, and they’ve heard the radio station about safety and food. Of course, Alice has to disappoint them. Nevertheless, Alice is intrigued about the ship. Claire meets her older brother Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller of ABC-TV’s “Prison Break”) who has been mistaken for a killer and locked by Bennett and his people. Chris has a way that they can escape from the prison and make it to the coast where they can get transportation to the Arcadia. Eventually, the zombies break into the prison after a Goliath dragging a gigantic hammer smashes his way through the locked gates and comes after Alice. As our heroes struggle to escape from the zombies, they are whittled down by the opposition.

Ultimately, the flaw that afflicts “Resident Evil: Afterlife” and all the “Resident Evil” sequels is story. In the original "Resident Evil," the Umbrella Corporation manufactured viral weapons and an industrial spy broke into the corporation’s Raccoon City complex and unleashed it. Everybody died, but they did not remain dead. They came back from the dead as ravenous flesh eating zombies. Not only did the men and women come back as zombies, but also the laboratory animals and mutant laboratory experiments. Since “Resident Evil,” Alice (Milla Jovovich) has been destroying zombies as well as Umbrella executives who want to carry on business as usual. Anderson hasn’t altered that serviceable narrative very much. You can only do so much with zombies unless you are cult filmmaker George Romeo, and Romeo changed zombies in “Land of the Dead.” Nevertheless, aside from the deadly familiarity that the franchise suffers from, everything else in “Resident Evil: Afterlife” looks fantastic. Jovovich’s gravity-defying antics, the exotic settings, a variety of new zombies: burrowing zombies, zombies octopus-like mandibles, water zombies, and a gigantic zombie with a gargantuan axe, as well as glossy production values, George Washington quarters as Alice’s shotgun ammo, a high body count, and the thumping tomandandy soundtrack make this adaptation of the Capcom survival horror videogame a blast to watch.


“Sweepers” director Keoni Waxman keeps the serviceable Steven Seagal thriller “The Keeper” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) from bogging down in “Con Express” scenarist Paul A. Birkett’s formulaic but entertaining yarn. An honest L.A.P.D. detective, who has been put-out-to-pasture, serves as a bodyguard for one of his oldest friends in Texas after an attempt is made to kidnap his friend’s adult daughter. Obviously, Waxman and Birkett must have seen Seagal’s second theatrical release “Hard to Kill” about a cop who gets shot, winds up in a coma for seven years, and then makes a miraculous recovery to take down the dudes that did him dirty. The rest of the story concerns our hero’s efforts a la “The Bodyguard” to protect a woman from evil kidnappers who want to use her to extort millions from her father.

Twenty-five year veteran police officer Roland Salinger (Steven Seagal) and his partner Trevor (Brian Keith Gamble of "Felon") stumble onto about $20-million of illicit drug money after they blast a room full of villains to death. Trevor wants to appropriate the dough. He claims that nobody will care. Appropriately, Roland is surprised by his partner’s attitude. He is more surprised when Trevor puts two slugs through his chest. Unfortunately for Trevor, he doesn’t finish the job. Nevertheless, Trevor is so certain that Roland is kaput that he calls in a 911 “an officer down” alert. Imagine Trevor's considerable shock when he learns later from a uniformed cop on the scene that Roland has a pulse. Trevor decides to finish off Roland at the hospital. Before Trevor walks into Roland's room, Roland's niece enters and inquires about her uncle's condition. Roland steals a revolver from his niece's purse while she is looking the other way and talking to a nurse. At this point, nobody knows for sure that Roland will recover from his wounds. Roland conceals the firearm under his hospital gown. After his niece leaves, Trevor slips into the room and tries to suffocate Roland with a pillow Imagine Trevor's surprise when the indestructible Roland plugs him twice. The way that Waxman and Birkett set up and pay off this scene is as adequate as Roland’s stamina is remarkable.

Gradually, Roland recovers his lethal skills. Waxman turns Roland's recovery into a montage of our hero slinging knives into a board. Naturally, as Roland recuperates, the knives hit the board and stick in it instead of bouncing off it or other knives. Although Roland makes a miraculous recovery, the L.A.P.D. mandates that he take early retirement. Not long afterward one of Roland’s best friends who he calls "a stand-up guy,” Conner Wells (Stephen DuVall of “Driven to Kill”), asks him to act as a bodyguard for Nikita Wells (Liezl Carstens of “Jordan”) his party-hardy daughter. Earlier, Nikita and her obnoxious boyfriend, Mason "The Storm" Silver (Arron Shiver of "Swing Vote"), were leaving a party when a group of assailants posing as paparazzi surrounded Nikita’s limo and opened fire on her bodyguard, Jorge (Tomas Sanchez of “MacGruber”), killing him in a brief firefight in an underground garage. One of the first clues that Mason is a villain occurs when he gets out of the limo to talk to the paparazzi and then flees to hide in a corner of the garage as they try to kidnap Nikita. Of course, Nikita doesn’t realize what an obnoxious jerk that Mason is or that he is a part of a conspiracy to abduct her. What nobody knows is that Mason is tied in with Conner’s old nemesis, career criminal Jason Cross (Luce Rains of “Appaloosa”), who wants to steal the deeds to all of Wells’ real estate holdings. Indeed, Mason has been trying to arrange things so that Conner’s men can kidnap her Nikita. Eventually, we learn that uranium has been discovered on Connor’s depleted oil well lands and the avaricious Cross wants the property. During this second quarter of the film, Waxman cross-cuts between Roland’s recovery and Nikita’s botched abduction. Indeed, Waxman does an adequate job of pacing the action and preparing us for what inevitably lies ahead.

No sooner does Roland land in a private charter jet in San Antonio than he finds himself chatting with an irate local lawman, Detective Simon Pacheco (Kevin Wiggins of “Terminator Salvation”), who notices the arsenal of firearms that Roland has brought in as part of his bodyguard job. Pacheco informs Roland that he doesn’t need back-up from a retired cop. “This is my town,” he points out. “So I hope there’s no problem. You just remember while you’re here, I’ll be watching you.” Roland knows that he is stepping on toes, so he steps lightly. “Well, it’s nice to have somebody at my back.” Throughout “The Keeper,” Pacheco keeps close tabs on our hero. Indeed, Pacheco seems to interfere more with Roland than Cross and his men. Later, Mason takes Nikita with him for a ride without giving her a chance to tell Roland and Cross sends his men to kidnap. Roland gun downs a couple of guys and kills another with a knife in the biggest action scene in this low-body count yarn. Nevertheless, he cannot thwart the kidnapping. Predictably, when Pacheco and his ten-gallon hatted deputies arrive at the scene, they arrest Roland who was clearly within his rights. Roland and Pacheco have a love/hate relationship. Pacheco warns Conner about Roland’s trigger-happy, knife-slinging behavior. Conner fixes it so that Roland is released. Roland tracks down Mason, snaps the neck of one Cross henchman and shoots two others and finds Mason holed up with a prostitute. Mason confesses to Roland that he helped set up Nikita for Cross to kidnap. Meantime, Cross wants to exchange Nikita for $5-million in cash and diamonds along with the property deeds to all of Conner’s oil field properties that have "the richest deposits of uranium in the United States." Anyway, Cross and Connor met at a rendezvous to exchange the loot for Nikita and Roland calls in Pacheco for back-up. A brief firefight erupts and the bad guys are either killed or in the case of Cross arrested. Connor has to exercise great restraint from killing Cross when he has him at gunpoint.

Nothing incredibly surprising occurs in “The Keeper,” but it is always fun to watch Seagal decimate the opposition with his aikido martial arts skills. The shoot-outs are sufficiently bloody and brutal, and Liezl Carstens qualifies as a sympathetic by flighty heroine. The villains are appropriately scummy, but they lack the quality that make them larger-than-life and worthy of their comeuppance. Waxman plays everything pretty straightforward, and Seagal doesn’t utter any ironic one-liners. Seagal's varies his dialogue delivery between urban funkiness to a whispered business-like rasp. This doesn't necessarily mean that Seagal gives a flawed performance. There are times when he speaks the lingo of those around him as in the case of his corrupt African-American partner. Later, when he ends up in Texas, he doesn't make with the funky dialect. The close-quarters combat scenes are edited so that everything occurs so rapidly that you may miss a punch or two if you aren't looking. The sequence in the hospital when the nurses are rushing Roland into surgery is rather well-done in terms of angles and coverage. “The Keeper” is not as much fun as “Urban Justice,” but it surpasses many of the martial arts star’s earlier straight-to-video releases where his voice was dubbed in by other actors.