Movies based on video games are an iffy proposition at best; the interactive experience of playing a game usually translates poorly to the passive encounter of watching a film. You'd think that adapting a game with such a cinematic influence like RESIDENT EVIL might help hedge the filmmakers' bets, and maybe it could've worked, if they hadn't made copying the look of the game their first priority.
The screenplay (by director Paul W.S. Anderson) pretty much carries the video game's premise to the screen, forgetting one important aspect; that by doing so, the finished film is about as exciting as watching someone else play RE for an hour and forty-five minutes. Instead of an honest-to-God storyline, Anderson gives us a simple Point A to Point B scenario and cloaks it in a tangled mess of withheld information we're to believe is a complex plot. Aside from an intriguing opening sequence in which the Red Queen shuts down the Hive, killing everyone inside (the elevator bit is as close to entertaining as the action gets), RESIDENT EVIL is a string of one tedious scene after another, punctuated every now and then by shitty CGI-enhanced zombies. (I was frequently surprised by just how poorly the digital effects were rendered, particularly the zombified dogs, which--pardon the pun--neutered any chance of generating thrills. I'm sure the studio behind RE wanted to keep the budget cheap, but if you're going to make a zombie film, don't skimp on the damn zombies.)
You don't go into a video game-based film looking for Oscar-caliber performances, but even by RE's limited standards the acting rings false. Milla Jovovich is supposed to be an action babe, but her stuntwork is rather unconvincing. Michelle Rodriguez trades in the acting cred she earned with GIRLFIGHT for the best role, the tough but hollow Rain. Add in the leaden anti-presence of Eric Mabious and you have the most memorable of the characters; the rest are a bland, interchangeable group of generic soldiers I didn't even attempt to keep straight.
George Romero was once attached to this project and was eventually given the boot for "creative differences," which must've been doubly painful since it was his DEAD trilogy that inspired the game in the first place. (So what if Anderson made the MORTAL KOMBAT movie? Does that really qualify him to helm a zombie film more than Romero?) Though I'm ultimately glad Romero didn't sully his resume with this dreck, in his hands the movie would've at least had some depth to it.
Overlong, dull, and stupid, RESIDENT EVIL coasts on the reputation of its namesake game, not bothering to provide an iota of the visceral thrill and tension that made it a success. Proof once again that aggressive marketing and corporate synergy wins every time.
(Special thanks to Dustin Stewart for his assistance with this blog.)