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"Resident Evil: Retribution" opens in reverse, with our heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) submerged in the ocean. She rises, lands back on the deck of a tanker at sea, runs backwards as crashing attack helicopter un-crashes behind her. Bullets retreat from the pilot's head into Alice's guns as gas-masked thugs rewind up their suspension ropes to other helicopters. This scene, one of several seductive visual flourishes in a movie that has virtually nothing else going for it, runs in mesmerizing slow-motion. What's happening? Who cares. Like any other dream, the fifth "Resident Evil" turns from hypnotic episode to soggy tatters as soon as you start asking questions.
Wait, actually, no — here comes a huge slab of exposition, delivered on a twirly mobile of translucent screens. Alice explains (facing the camera straight-on, narrating with no regard for suspension of disbelief) the thumbnail setup: A huge evil germ lab called the Umbrella Corporation has infected the world with virulent zombieism and now almost everyone's dead or un-. She's really good at killing monsters and somehow she rounded up some survivors and took to sea with them. That's when Umbrella dispatched the helicopter fleet to rat-a-tat-tat the lot of 'em and capture Alice. She wakes up in a former submarine fabrication facility in Siberia, now Umbrella's test kitchen for outbreak scenarios in city-sized mockups of Tokyo, New York, suburbia and Moscow. Some dudes are coming to rescue her if she can get to the exit but she'll have to fight her way out through those settings.
And that's the whole deal. Spoiler: She kills a bunch of stuff and gets away. Now, it's almost not worth complaining about such frivolity as story in a fourth sequel based on a video game, but at the risk of offending the 14-year-old boys whose wholesale lack of discernment keeps junkheaps such as this barging into multiplexes, we must note here that "Resident Evil: Retribution" sprinkles less story into more space than any other movie of recent memory. Aside from running, shooting, fighting, killing, there's just not much happening here. The dialogue plods like a three-legged brontosaurus. The plot goes in one straight line and arrives in exactly the spot it announced it was going. Attempted twists arrive at your seat via telegram.
While the movie lasts all of 95 minutes, so much of it is spent indulging in sultry slow-motion that it's hard to gauge how much time actually elapses. A few "Matrix"-esque fight sequences do give the action a sense of digital weightlessness that harks to the best aspects of dinking around with a new PlayStation shoot-'em-up. Mostly, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson uses this installment to set up yet another sequel without defining why you'd need to see this particular "Resident Evil" to understand the jump from the fourth to the sixth movies. In other words, it's disposable even by the standards of this disposable fare.
Ah, but Milla Jovovich! Since she fell into the sci-fi action genre 15 years ago with "The Fifth Element," she has graced plenty of middling dramas and comedies, and maybe once she ages out of these physical, face-kicking roles she'll put herself out to pasture with more rom-coms. Until then, Jovovich is Alice, ferocious and agile, as curiously bland as she is conspicuously beautiful. Now 37, she still cuts the figure of an everywoman-turned-zombie-killer just fine, and for Hollywood to veer against type to keep a mom-aged at the center of this bloody franchise partially redeems it. There are a few other draws littered among the cast — Michelle Rodriguez is back, at least — but your decision to see this movie will probably come down to whether you consider $10 equal to or less than the value of seeing Jovovich slinging guns, swinging chains and wearing very tight black outfits.