Five films, over $660 million at the worldwide box office ... you have to hand it to "Resident Evil." In 10 years, it has become - while few who enjoy good films have noticed - the most successful video-game film franchise in history.
These movies have kept action-horror hack Paul W. S. Anderson in business and sustained model-turned-actress Milla Jovovich in between her other rare appearances on the big screen.
The movies? To a one, violent, nonsensical bloodbaths, badly written, flatly acted. At least last time, in "Resident Evil: Afterlife," they seemed to spend some money and expand their vision of the combat zone, which resulted in a bigger, more action-packed and by far more successful exercise in first-person shooter mayhem.
But from the obviously digitally-augmented action to the disconcertingly disembodied voices of the actors, "Resident Evil: Retribution" seems to remove whatever ambition they let themselves develop and take this dog-eared franchise back to square one.
Anderson returns to the director's chair for the third time, which means he isn't out re-butchering "The Three Musketeers," so be grateful for that. He gives us a film with three different openings - a rewind-the-last-film prologue, with bio-altered "security expert" Alice (Jovovich) getting us up to date on the first four films
"At last," she narrates, "we thought we had survived the horror."
But no. An imaginary Alice as housewife-mom is assaulted by zombies, followed by that inevitable moment when Alice wakes up, nearly naked, in a vast over-lit room where the Umbrella Corp. has her stashed. These movies never let us forget that Jovovich is easy on the eyes.
You will remember that Umbrella Corp. made its billions off bio-weapons, and one virus busted out of Raccoon City and turned the Earth into Planet Zombie, with Alice the last semi-human hope of saving the last of humanity.
If you don't remember that, you've probably been spending your time more wisely.
In "Retribution," Alice is back in a super-secret Umbrella facility tasked with fighting her way out through various levels, "protocols," basically gamescapes that recreate a zombie apocalypse in New York, suburbia, Tokyo and Moscow. Ada (Bingbing Li) is to be her guide. Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Rain (big-screen tough-girl Michelle Rodriguez) are trying to stop her.
And a SWAT team is working its way into the facility to help her out.
As a few of her other films attest, Jovovich can still act, though you'd never know it from these bullets-and-bustiers pictures. She handles action choreography well, doesn't ruin the few feeble one-liners Anderson writes for her and summons up a moment or two of lip-quivering fear in the film's opening. But it's a flat performance, a still-fit woman looking exhausted at playing shoot-em-up in a movie where empathy, plot and character development were sacrificed, if they were ever there to start with.
Anderson stages some of the bloodier brawls in bright, white futuristic hallways of chrome and plastic - the blood shows up redder. He busies up the screen with computer graphics to show Alice being monitored as she makes her way out.
And he fills Alice's field of fire with zombies, giants and alien-esque beasties for her to shoot, torch, decapitate or impale. The violence in "Retribution" is impersonal, gory and non-stop.
Which, due to the digital world of film these days, may be the fate of "Resident Evil" and Jovovich in it. It may never stop. They'll keep doing more and more of her stunt work with computers, shaving years off her looks as she ages. Which may be the real "retribution" here: Another movie comes out to bad reviews, and as our punishment they keep making more.
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Oded Fehr, Bingbing Li, Aryana Engineer
Written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, a Screen Gems release.
Running time: 1:31
MPAA rating: R for sequences of strong violence throughout