Originally, George A Romero was slated to adapt Capcom's hugely popular videogame series. You could see the thinking, given Romero's Night Of The Living Dead trilogy is the stuff of horror legend. But his ambitious zombie flick was axed to death in infancy, deemed too gory for mainstream entertainment. The production company demanded fresh blood, so to speak, and landed director Paul Anderson. No, not the guy behind Magnolia (if only), that's Paul T Anderson. This is Paul WS Anderson (as he now, laughably, likes to be credited), the guy behind Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon and - - it gets worse - - Soldier. The result is predictably stinky.
In a secret underground lab called The Hive, a dodgy genetic virus is on the loose. Suitably panicked, the scientific bigwigs have called in a military team to secure the facility before the crisis escalates. Only there are a few problems. First off, The Hive's central computer thinks the rescuers are intruders, not saviors. Second, the one person who can explain what's going on, Alice (Milla Jovovich), has temporary amnesia. And last but, as ever, by no means least, the facility's being overrun by zombified scientists with a craving for human flesh...
Fans of the games will instantly recognise the set-up, as the commandos get more than they bargained for (some slice `n' dice laser beams are especially nasty) and the few remaining characters, including Jovovich's Alice and Michelle Rodriguez's typically tough-talking Rain, have to get out of the lab before the doors lock. In the gaming industry they call this "survival horror" and it ought to make for a memorable sci-fi actioner.
Ought to. Instead, Anderson digs up a cinematic corpse that no amount of last-minute editing surgery can reanimate. As corpses go, it's a good-looking one (more on Jovovich later), but only the most rabid Evil nut will be satisfied by the moribund action and straight-to-retail production values. The undead stalkers are particularly disappointing - - slathered in unconvincing make-up they convey zero menace. But it's not simply the zombie-creators who are at fault. `WS' does them no favours with his flat, sterile direction. Showing only the faintest grasp of suspense techniques, he appears to think a sudden, villainous lurch into shot and a blast of music are all that's needed to generate flesh-creeping tension.
So why the seemingly generous two-star rating? Because Anderson at least has the good sense to stay faithful to the game, even finding space for those pesky zombie dogs and an end-of-level mutant "boss". And because he hired Milla Jovovich. For just as Angelina Jolie kept Lara Croft: Tomb Raider from being a waste of time, so Jovovich's sexy, high-kicking martial arts heroine convinces you not to hit the "reset" button before the credits read "Game Over". Just.
A faithful but gutless videogame adap, Paul WS Anderson's actioner shuffles along like a particularly dim zombie. Milla Jovovich's energy and sex appeal make it watchable, but for die hard fans only.