You rarely hear anyone walk out of Burger King complaining that their Whopper didn't didn't taste like filet mignon; you don't see car experts comparing a Volkwagen Beetle to a Porsche 911; and you never expect a pop singer to deliver Mozart. So why are the eagerly mindless Resident Evil movies held to a higher standard than the franchise aspires to? Yes, it's quite easy to note that these films often have limp acting, contorted narratives, and an obsession with style over substance -- but if what you're looking for on "cable flick" night is a slick-looking, relatively fast-paced, and (yes) eagerly mindless feature-length zombie-obsessed rock video, then pretty much any of the Resident Evil chapters should suffice. Yes, even the fourth one.
As Part 4 opens, we're treated to a colorfully kinetic sequence in which multiple Milla Jovoviches invade the subterranean Tokyo branch of the Umbrella Corporation. There she meets up with the evil Wesker (Wesker was very briefly in part 3, but he was recast and given a much bigger role in 4), escapes in wacky fashion, hightails it to Alaska to find some old friends, and then flies back to Los Angeles in order to ... I dunno ... slaughter more zombies in a warmer climate. (Plot-wise, this thing's about as deep as a bank receipt.) Joining Alice (Jovovich) and Claire (Ali Larter) is a new collection of racially diverse nobodies who exist only to spout exposition and exclamations until their splattery death scenes show up.
So while Resident Evil: Afterlife is surely, if intermittently, diverting, there's little denying that the film is choppy, confused, and periodically kinda dull. There are only so many "slow down and talk" scenes that a Resident Evil film really needs, and Part 4 certainly does have its share. Also, the much-touted 3D infusion does next to nothing to improve the flick. A few isolated moments are fairly nifty (like when stuff gets thrown directly at the camera), and the 3-D manages to add a little scope to the flick's apocalyptic wastelands -- but beyond that, meh. It's a gimmick addition for a gimmick franchise, so I guess it fits, even if it doesn't make the film any better.
Returning to the series after giving Part 2 to Alexander Witt and Part 3 to Russell Mulcahy, Paul W.S. Anderson does what he does best: stylish, ridiculous action sequences presented in relatively crisp and cool fashion. He also knows how to make a massive monster look extra-massive, and he's really good at designing massive underground lairs, but when it comes to pacing, sense, and physics, Anderson is (as always) a bit unprepared. To the director's credit, this time around he's hired the excellent "Tomandandy" to score his zombie mayhem, and their funky melodies do add an energetic backdrop for all the insanity.
Frankly I say it's time to get off Anderson's back. The man clearly enjoys making empty-headed but well-mounted action and horror flicks, and while he'll never be mistaken for a genre master, there's something to be said for a flick (and a franchise) that is intent on delivering its familiar goods in a slightly different fashion each time out. You'll probably forget all about Resident Evil: Afterlife less than two hours after you watch it on HBO in a few months, but you'll definitely get a few fun chuckles 'n' groans as the flick unspools.