Though she could be forgiven for stifling yawns as she tackles yet another go-round as one-note heroine Alice in “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” Milla Jovovich remains the lone light in the increasingly lackluster videogame-based zombie franchise, which barrels through its fourth installment with a threatened fifth on the way. Though boasting significant technical improvements on 2007’s borderline incoherent third installment, “Afterlife” is equally moribund, and perhaps even more shamelessly derivative. Considering the franchise’s track record and evergreen formula (hot woman kills zombies with sharp objects), pic should rack up healthy earnings over the sparse post-Labor Day weekend.
Shot in good-looking (if massively gimmick-laden) 3D and boasting action setpieces in which viewers can actually discern who is fighting whom and where, “Afterlife” is a far cry from the murky, ceiling-wax aesthetics of the series’ earlier iterations. Yet despite this professional sheen, director Paul W.S. Anderson (who also directed the original) can hardly manage a hint of suspense or excitement.And excitement is exactly what the film ought to have in excess, as an admirably bonkers opening sequence depicts the superpowered Alice and her army of clones (created for half-remembered reasons in “Resident Evil: Extinction”) as they storm the underground Tokyo HQ of the sinister Umbrella Corp., which four years earlier unleashed a zombie apocalypse.
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Grenades, pistols, assault rifles, swords and ninja stars are unleashed in a frenzied flurry of shootouts and photogenic freefalls, with a helpful digital counter keeping track of the death count as it soars past the 300-mark. Yet this is all a mere prologue to a long stretch of inactivity, as Alice is stripped of both her superpowers and her clones, and left wandering the earth in search of other survivors.
Commandeering a plane to seek out a rumored safe haven in Alaska, Alice reconnects with former compatriot Claire (Ali Larter), who has been helpfully stricken with amnesia, all the better to facilitate a slow drip of plot points as she recovers her memory. The two then head south to Los Angeles, for some reason, and crash-land on the roof of a prison, where a clutch of survivors are holed up seeking shelter from thousands of zombies assembled below.
The zombie hordes, once prone to bursting out of every dark corner, now seem to alarm the survivors about as much as a bumblebee set loose at a pool party, and serve more as distant technical obstacles than as predatory foes. Indeed, once past the opening sequence, a weird lack of urgency sets in, with characters rarely breaking beyond a brisk jog to evade danger, and fight scenes stripped of all verve by being uniformly shot in extreme slow-motion.
Rounding out the victims list are Boris Kodjoe as a good-looking basketball player, Kim Coates as a sleazy Hollywood producer, and “Prison Break’s” Wentworth Miller, daringly cast as a prisoner. Few among the cast are granted enough dialogue to distinguish themselves as they wait to be bloodily dispatched, though Coates does well enough in his sleazeball role, and Shawn Roberts (as Umbrella Corp. villain Albert Wesker) essentially does a slipshod impression of Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith from “The Matrix” (one of many areas in which “Afterlife” lifts from the Wachowski brothers’ playbook). Jovovich once again invests her character with more energy and professionalism than the role deserves.
Technical contributions are mostly well handled, though the ceaseless industrial-rock score quickly becomes tiresome.