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In general, video games — flashy as they often are — just don't make very good movies. There's something about the translation from fully interactive to static that kills off the thrill of even the coolest of them. More importantly, when transferred from monitor to big screen, video game heroes often reveal themselves as exactly what they are: one-dimensional, weapon-laden golems, waiting to be filled by the player. Once you stop being able to steer their lives and decide their fate, there just ain't much left to make a character.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised with most of “Resident Evil: Extinction.” Leaving behind a good bit of the top-secret labs and government conspiracy baloney of previous episodes, “Extinction” is — first and foremost — just a good ol' zombie apocalypse yarn. And if you know anything about this writer, it's that I love a zombie apocalypse.
As with the other Resident Evil flicks, the star of the show is Alice (Milla Jovovich, whose American accent has improved by leaps and bounds since the first installment), a genetically engineered killing machine bred in an underground government lab. As seen in the previous films, the lab was also working on some nasty experiments at re-animating the living dead via the “T-Virus.” Since we last saw Alice, that viral infection has spread not only to the world's human population, but to the planet itself, leaving it a dying desert world filled with flesh-hungry zombies. As the film opens, we find Alice has taken to roaming the wasteland Mad-Max-style, helping the helpless and trying to find survivors. Soon, she make contact with an armored convoy of nearly a hundred souls led by a manicurist-turned-ass-kicker named Claire (Ali Larter, who — as the poor man's Milla Jovovich — makes for a rather weird casting choice as Alice's compatriot). Together, using a journal Alice found on a dead soldier, they decide to make a try for Alaska. There, the journal says, there's no infection and survivors are making a new society. Not so fast, however. It seems that Dr. Issacs (Iain Glen), the evil scientist who created the T-Virus, has been searching for Alice for years, knowing that her blood is the key to curing the disease. Soon, he finds her, and a showdown between Issacs (newly mutated by his own bad medicine) and Alice looms.
As I said, the most interesting parts of “Extinction” are those which are most unlike the previous installments in the series — namely, the day-to-day, life-and-death struggles survivors have to go through to survive in this new world. The problem is — SPOILER WARNING! — that plotline literally flies off the screen around three quarters of the way through the film, never to be heard from again. After that, “Extinction” quickly deflates like a punctured balloon, melting back into the same “Underground Horrors” stuff that gave the earlier “Resident Evil” flicks all the flair and panache of a tour of your mom's creepy basement. Even the final rumble with the over-CGI'ed monster wasn't enough to wake things up.
In short, while I wish they'd have left the high-tech-super-secret-lab stuff alone this go-round, “Extinction” was by far the best installment of the “Resident Evil” series yet. Sharing more than a little DNA with films like “Road Warrior” and George Romero's “Night of the Living Dead” series, it's mostly a hoot. Feel free, however, to go get that refill in the last 20 minutes, because it kinda goes downhill from there.