Back for another round, “Resident Evil: Retribution” – the fifth entry in the sci-fi horror series – essentially brings the same formula to the table.
That’s good news for those who have been fans of the series.
For people like me, it’s just another monotonous spectacle that feels like you’re watching someone else play a video game.
“Retribution” once again centers on Alice (Milla Jovovich) – a post-apocalyptic heroine fighting the evil corporation Umbrella, which has created a deadly virus that has transformed most of the population into flesh-eating zombies.
Alice awakens inside one of Umbrella’s top-secret facilities and learns that former Umbrella allies are now trying to help her in escaping – and destroying the facility to help tip the scale in the global battle.
“Resident Evil” never strays too far from what has made it popular, with plenty of stylized action sequences and very little attempt at plot or character development.
I don’t have a problem with mindless entertainment when it is well-made, or at least tries to bring a different spin, but “Retribution” is way too familiar. Director Paul W.S. Anderson (who will never be confused with fellow filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson) makes essentially the same film as the previous four – with the action sequences feeling more like video game levels and less like a feature film.
There are some moments of mild amusement, mostly unintentional. I did find chainsaw-wielding zombie soldiers to be sort of clever. I also enjoyed Anderson’s best directing job – a sequence early in the film where he manages to strategically place two small towels that keep Jovovich (Anderson’s real-life spouse) from exposing certain parts of her anatomy.
Those moments are too few in a film that feels way longer than its 95-minute running time (having a pair of false endings doesn’t help).
“Retribution” also ends with the promise of another chapter. I kind of wish this was the final chapter and that someone would close the book on this subpar franchise.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Damsels in Distress” (A-) – writer-director Whit Stillman’s first film in 14 years.
I’ve always had a bit of admiration for Stillman, who made a trio of films – “Barcelona,” “Metropolis” and “The Last Days of Disco” – that featured an elitist and sardonic tone.
“Damsels” captures the same self-absorbed upper-class characters who think they know best, even when most of the times they don’t. It’s as if Stillman never left.
Greta Gerwig stars as Violet, the leader of a group of female students in a fictional Northeastern college who believe their sole purpose is to change the school environment for the better.
Violet and her group, which includes Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), believe they have the answer for students who suffer from severe depression and know exactly what it takes to prevent unhappiness. Violet runs the campus suicide prevention center, with her idea of therapy being to teach the depressed how to tap dance.
Violet also believes she has all the answers to romance and dating, theorizing that women should date less desirable men because it will lessen the chance they are dumped.
Her theories and ideas are put to the test, though, when a transfer student named Lily (Analeigh Tipton) joins the group and challenges Violet’s unorthodox views on life and relationships. More problems arise when the men Violet and her friends have targeted because of their shallowness prove just as capable of breaking hearts as the men they’ve tried to avoid.
Some might see this as glib and superficial, but Stillman has a way for making the mundane fascinating – with a script full of dry wit and rich dialogue that you don’t see often enough. This is essentially “Mean Girls: The College Years” with a spin that only a writer as talented as Stillman can pull off.
The female cast makes the most of this sizzling script, especially Gerwig – playing a character who thinks she is the smartest person in the room with all the answers, even when it is obvious she isn’t. Her observations, as pointed and warped as they are, provide many of the film’s best moments.
I do wish the male characters (which include Adam Brody, Zack Woods and Ryan Metcalf) would have been a little more developed, but it’s tough to be too critical of a film that manages to wedge in a couple of whimsical musical numbers without it really feeling forced.
This is a film that takes its self-awareness about its own elitist attitude and manages to be in on the joke with the audience.
I can only hope Stillman doesn’t wait another 14 years before his next project.
“Damsels in Distress” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including some sexual material and will be available Tuesday on DVD.