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Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Perhaps the least necessary movie sequel since "Benji: Off the Leash," "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" picks up where the surprisingly profitable 2000 original left off, telling another tale of T-Virus-infected zombies wreaking havoc in fictional Raccoon City.

With:
Alice - Milla Jovovich Jill Valentine - Sienna Guillory Carlos Olivera - Oded Fehr Major Cain - Thomas Kretschmann Angie Ashford - Sophie Vavasseur Sgt. Peyton Wells - Raz Adoti Dr. Ashford - Jared Harris L.J. - Mike Epps

Perhaps the least necessary movie sequel since “Benji: Off the Leash,” “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” picks up where the surprisingly profitable 2000 original left off, telling another tale of T-Virus-infected zombies wreaking havoc in fictional Raccoon City. Calamitously uninspired and borderline incoherent, new pic lacks even those fleeting pleasures (namely, a sense of humor) that made the first film a passable popcorn attraction. Audiences should be quick to catch on, resulting in a B.O. take well below the $100 million worldwide gross of its predecessor. Cliffhanger ending notwithstanding, “Apocalypse” could spell doom for the future of this Screen Gems franchise.

Conceived as a prequel of sorts to the enormously popular videogame series, which in turn owes more than a bit to George Romero’s “Living Dead” trilogy, first “Resident Evil” pic depicted the outbreak of the corpse-reanimating T-Virus in the underground lab (known as the Hive) of the sinister Umbrella Corp. Trapped inside during the ensuing lockdown, a small band of uninfected survivors tried to escape. In the end only two did: amnesiac security guard Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Matt (Eric Mabius) who was searching for his missing sister. Just when it seemed as though the worst was over, Alice and Matt were abducted by shadowy Umbrella employees amid talk of something called the Nemesis program. (New pic was originally known as “Resident Evil: Nemesis,” until the failure of the bigscreen “Star Trek” entry bearing that same subtitle.)

At the beginning of “Apocalypse,” all seems well again in Raccoon City. Then, in the interest of figuring out “what exactly happened down there,” some Umbrella honchos approve the reopening of the Hive, which in turn unleashes a new wave of zombie terror on the unsuspecting city above.

Interested only in preserving its corporate image, Umbrella Corp. seals off Raccoon City, allowing its denizens to gradually devour each other.

Umbrella does try to evacuate a few “high-priority extractions,” including paraplegic company scientist Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris) and his teenage daughter, Angie (Sophie Vavasseur). But the SUV transporting the girl crashes, stranding her amid the zombie infestation.

Meanwhile, another posse of survivors is forming, led once again by Alice, who has been infected, guinea pig-style, by Umbrella Corp. with both the T-Virus and its antivirus.

Along for the ride are tough-talking female cop Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, in vidgame-esque tight-fitting top and ultra-miniskirt), the leader of Umbrella Corp.’s elite tactical rescue team (Oded Fehr); and the obligatory fast-talking hustler type (Mike Epps).

Unable to get help for Angie from Umbrella’s nefarious Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann), Dr. Ashford promises to provide Alice and her group with safe passage out of Raccoon City for the safe return of his daughter. So begins a tiresome game of cat-and-mouse, as the rescuers make their way toward the girl while doing battle with the same assortment of baddies introduced in the previous pic.

The only major new element is the Nemesis creature itself — a giant monster that may or may not be a mutated version of the Matt character from the first pic. Otherwise, new pic is less an advance on its predecessor than a re-staging. But dramatic energy is dissipated in transposing the setting from the claustrophobic, bunker-like environs of the Hive to the spacious city.

First-time director Alexander Witt seems at a greater loss than previous helmer Paul W.S. Anderson in staging action sequences. The movie is so underlit and overcut it is frequently impossible to discern what’s happening. If this were a videogame, one would be compelled to return it to the store for a refund.

As before, pic racks up some novelty value for its willingness to let its heroines do as much or more of the ass-kicking as its heroes, though Guillory doesn’t seem to be having nearly as good a time as Jovovich.

But the whole enterprise registers as a missed opportunity when one considers the satirical potential of the premise, particularly in this moment of Enron and the other corporate scandals — exactly the sort of sociopolitical subtext Romero has played up in his work and that even this year’s lackluster “Dawn of the Dead” remake tapped into more effectively than this assembly-line offering.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Canada-U.K.

Production: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems, Davis Films/Impact (Canada), Constantin Film (U.K.) presentation of a Constantin Film (U.K.)/Davis Films/Impact (Canada) production. Produced by Jeremy Bolt, Paul W.S. Anderson, Don Carmody. Executive producers, Bernd Eichinger, Robert Kulzer, Samuel Hadida, Victor Hadida. Directed by Alexander Witt. Screenplay, Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the Capcom videogame "Resident Evil."

Crew: Camera (Deluxe London color, widescreen), Christian Sebaldt, Derek Rogers; editor, Eddie Hamilton; music, Jeff Danna; production designer, Paul Denham Austerberry; art director, Nigel Churcher; costume designer, Mary McLeod; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), David Lee; supervising sound editor, Craig Henighan; visual effects, Mr. X, Frantic Films, C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures; Nemesis makeup and effects, Paul Jones Effects Studio; casting, Tina Gerussi. Reviewed at Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, Sept. 8, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

Cast: Alice - Milla Jovovich Jill Valentine - Sienna Guillory Carlos Olivera - Oded Fehr Major Cain - Thomas Kretschmann Angie Ashford - Sophie Vavasseur Sgt. Peyton Wells - Raz Adoti Dr. Ashford - Jared Harris L.J. - Mike Epps

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