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State-of-the-art 3D effects add a welcome dose of visual freshness to the fourth installment of this video game-based franchise which, like its central character, has managed to kick butt. Marking the return of director Paul W. S. Anderson to the series, “Resident Evil: Afterlife” certainly will please its fan base and possibly attract newcomers thanks to its arresting visuals. But as with the first three installments, those looking for anything more than a series of slam-bang action sequences will find little of interest.
The film certainly opens strong, with its fearsome heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich, in fine form) leading a siege on the evil corporation that years ago set loose a virus that has reduced the world to a postapocalyptic nightmare overrun by flesh-eating zombies. (That the film is set in a burnt-out Los Angeles certainly adds verisimilitude.)
The elaborate sequence, with Alice brandishing heavy artillery and well-sharpened knives while mowing down endless reserves of hapless opponents, is staged in expert, mock-video game fashion.
Unfortunately, things go downhill from there as the plot, such as it is, kicks in. After a quick sojourn to Alaska and a reunion with her old cohort Claire (Ali Larter), who has amnesia, Alice makes her way to L.A. There she joins forces with a ragtag group of survivors trapped in a futuristic high-rise prison, with thousands of zombies growling at them from below. Among the group is Claire’s inmate brother Chris, played by Wentworth Miller, who, after “Prison Break” and this, seems less in need of an agent than a parole officer.
Then there’s talk, lots of it, with the only potential excitement coming when it looks like Alice will strip down for a shower, only to be interrupted by a zombie invasion (you could practically hear the disappointed sighs in the theater).
Eventually, the filmmaker rewards our patience with several more high-octane action sequences, featuring enough slo-mo and bullet-time effects to remind us not only of the series’ video game origins but also, unfortunately, rather too much of “The Matrix”; the fact that the perpetually sunglass-wearing villain seems to have stepped right out of those films doesn’t help.
Among the action highlights — all accompanied by the relentlessly grinding industrial music score — are Alice and Claire’s showdown with a giant zombie wielding what looks to be a giant meat tenderizer and the appearance of a couple of zombie dogs who split their heads into two parts, each complete with razor-sharp teeth.
Shot in actual 3D rather than being the latest example of the horrible post-shooting conversion process, “Afterlife” undeniably looks terrific. The filmmakers better hope that those inflated 3D television prices come down in time for the home video release.
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