Movie Review: “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” misses by a Milla

Oh come on, not THIS crap again!

You’d figure six “Resident Evil” movies would have been enough, a seriously-lowbrow but seriously successful video-game film franchise that helped Milla Jovovich put her kids through college and what not.

But her character, an avenging Lara Croft-type with sex appeal and a violent streak, is gone. This new reboot, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is a back-to-the-game, back-to-basics bore.

The world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, Umbrella Corp, is closing down its gigantic plant in Raccoon City, a company town given that name by English-as-a-Fourth-Language Japanese video game designers.

There are rumors about what’s “in the water” there, and what they’ve been experimenting on “below” the factory, rumors that were prevalent when siblings Claire and Chris were orphans in the Raccoon City Orphanage way back in “The Golden Girls” ’80s.

Claire, in particular, saw things — scary things. She ran away as a teen, and now (1998) that the plant is closing and the town is dying with it, she (“Maze Runner” alumnus Kaya Scodelario) is back to check up on cop-brother Chris (Rob Amell of TVs’ “Upload”).

But Claire can’t even hitch a ride from a pervy trucker without all hell breaking loose. They hit a woman in a hospital gown, standing in the middle of the roadin the rain and gloom. While arguing about what to do about this, the woman staggers off.

I know what you’re thinking. “Zombies.” Granted, that’s not what Umbrella Corp. was setting out to create (the game’s name is “Biohazard” in Japan). But as they look like rotting, bleeding corpses and crave brains — or flesh — “zombies” will have to do, as it always has.

Claire and a rookie cop (Avan Jogia) without any discernable policing skills and a Johnny Depp haircut team up to survive in the police station, while Chris and a team of Raccoon City’s Finest, including Hannah John-Kamen and Tom Hopper, are prowling the halls of the old, spooky manor house of Umbrella’s founder (“Umbrella is your shelter in a storm!”), looking for clues left on a Palm Pilot and fighting off zombies.

And then there’s the police chief (Donal Logue), whose first reaction to the Umbrella civil defense sirens going off is to flee, as does the scientist who used to “care for the orphans,” who grabs his wife and daughter and floors it. They just know

The scientist is played by veteran heavy Neal McDonagh, so expect the worst, right?

There’s a hint here and there that writer-director Johannes Roberts (“46 Meters Down”) gave a thought or two to making this a darkly funny splatter-the-zombies thriller, or a darkly thrilling splatter-the-zombies comedy. A few deaths are treated as jokes, and the sight gags are by default amusing period references.

It’s 1998, and pagers, Palm Pilots, Blockbuster and Journey were still going concerns.

The lines are never cleverer than “I think there’s something seriously wrong with this place,” and “Lock the gates. There might be others.” “Other WHAT?”

The most interesting scenes are the origin story bits, with Claire consulting a conspiracy buff on this newfangled thing, “The Internet” to figure out what’s been happening in this mysterious “company town” in the middle of the woody mountains.

The first local to start bleeding from her eyes — “I’m sure it’s nothing!” — the first bloody writing on a window — “Itchy Tasty” — gets our attention.

But damned if I didn’t miss Milla in this. Say what you will about the onetime Joan of Arc/”Return to the Blue Lagoon” siren as an actress. She’s got screen charisma, and her total investment in her character made her a compelling surrogate for the B-movie audience.

We rooted for her, and dare I say it, suffered with her. Nothing of that sort happens here. Nobody is developed in enough depth the viewer to identify with.

If Scodelario is signed up for a franchise, and saving something for the next film in it, she gives us zilch to cling to here. Claire’s background is glossed-over in ways that don’t explain her motorcycle savvy and firearm skills.

Nobody in this picture seems the least bit horrified at what they’re experiencing. It’s like they’re — I don’t know — video game characters just girding for that next lock-and-load moment.

If indeed this is a full on franchise reboot, this “origin story” is no “Welcome to Raccoon City” at all. It’s a warning to avoid ever coming back.

Rating: R for strong violence and gore, and language throughout.

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue and Neal McDonagh

Credits: Scripted and directed by Johannes Roberts. A Sony/Screen Gems release.

Running time: 1:47

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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