CELLULAR: Though the summer blockbuster season has been ruled in recent years by superheroes, superrobots, supervillians, superpresidents, superaliens, and all other things “super,” we’re detected a tremor in the Hollywood mojo of late. Specifically: the Average Hero movie.
Earlier this summer, we had “Collateral,” wherein an average-Joe cabbie (Jamie Foxx) is minding his own business one day when he is pressed into service as the wheelman for a hired assassin.
Now, here comes “Cellular,” where an average-Joe beachbum, Ryan (Chris Evans) is minding his own business one day when he — well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The film starts with another out-of-the-blue incident: middle-school science teacher Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) has just seen her son off to school one morning when five gunmen smash in the backdoor, kill her housekeeper, and take her hostage. They cart her off to a musty old attic and keep her there, demanding information about something her husband has that they want.
Once they leave, Jessica — using her strange, science-teacher powers (as she does often throughout the movie) — wires a smashed telephone back into the system, and is able to send out one random call by tapping two wires repeatedly together. She gets the aforementioned beach bum, Ryan, who has been cooing all day over the features of his new plaything: a bells-and-whistles cellular phone.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but through Ryan’s attempts to both find Jessica and avoid losing her signal to all the things that plague cell-phone users — tunnels, dead batteries, low signal in buildings, loud radios, dropped calls — Ryan is sent racing back and forth across L.A., trying to find Jessica’s son and husband before the bad guys do. The result is an often funny and always thrilling film that reminded me more than once of the German indie film “Run, Lola, Run,” if only for its coronary-inducing sense of speed.
Yeah, there are some holes in the story line. Were there times Ryan could have nipped all this in the bud by stopping at a payphone and dialing 911? Sure. Could Basinger’s character have given better instructions/descriptions/suggestions to Ryan to make his attempts at rescue go more smoothly? Sure. The thing is, by the time this roller coaster really gets moving, questions like that become strictly Way Homers — things you won’t remember to ask until you’re in the car on the way home.
— By David Koon
RESIDENT EVIL: Though many reviewers dread the coming of the summer blockbuster season — that time of movies with all the explosions of downtown Baghdad and all the brains of Anna Nicole Smith — it helps to see things relatively. Once you divorce yourself from the idea that there’s a cosmic report card where “The Bicycle Thief” ranks an “A” and “Chopper Chicks from Zombietown” rates a “Here’s your McDonald’s uniform, you’re going to need it,” the reviewer can begin to rate summer movies on whether or not they fulfill the sole purpose of summer movies since the beginning of time: Does this film take the viewer’s mind off the fact that soon he’s going to have to go out to the parking lot and plant his butt on a car seat that approaches the temperature of the sun?
Case in point: “Resident Evil: Apocalypse.” You aren’t going to mistake this one for the latest Merchant Ivory production. If it was Oscar season, I’d say, “If the last movie you saw had a corset or a bustle anywhere in it, run in the other direction.” But being that it is summer, we’ll say that for any flaws it has, Resident Evil: Apocalypse” yam what it yam, and knows it: a big, flashy, cornball summer movie, full of people capping the undead at close range and ridiculous CGI monsters that look like a cross between a flank steak and a wood chipper. This is a flick that knows its place, which is down in the gutter, and it wallows gleefully there: gun-toting chicks in too-tight clothes, people flicking lit cigarettes into kitchens full of propane, cheesy one-liners, dagger-throwing, final showdowns and zombies (and zombie Dobermans) getting greased with cars, knives, flame-throwers, pieces of jagged metal, cans of creamed corn, etc., etc., etc. For those looking for nothing more than having their “Mayhem” button pushed, this is the place.
Based on the Capcom video game (evidenced, at my showing, by a theater full of doughy twenty-something males, all fishbelly white), you know what kind of movie it’s going to be from the first moment you see heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich), strapped down in some super-secret lab, wearing nothing but two paper towels, one in front, one in rear. We soon learn that, after being dragged off by agents of the evil Umbrella Corporation (think Microsoft, Wal-Mart and Halliburton finally merge and take over the world) in the final frames of “Resident Evil 1,” she has been the unwilling guinea pig of a project aimed at splicing her DNA with the T-Virus — which has the power to reanimate the dead.
Soon enough, Alice escapes and goes staggering through the devastated city, nothing but her two Bounty towels protecting her modesty. Luckily for her, she soon comes upon a sporting goods/Army surplus store stacked to the rafters with body armor and bulletproof vests. Sure, she’s going out to do battle with the bloodthirsty undead. But given that this is a summer movie (and much to the delight of all those doughy white males), Alice says, “I think I’ll rock this mesh tank top and low-rider jeans combo.” She doesn’t skimp on the heat, however, strapping herself with enough firepower to make France immediately surrender.
From there until the credits roll, she deals in lead, working her way through the zombie-filled city to retrieve the daughter of a scientist who has promised to give Alice the anti-virus if she can get his daughter out before a tactical nuke flies at dawn and erases Umbrella’s mistake. Meanwhile, Nemesis — an unstoppable monster created by the same program that turned Alice into an unstoppable hottie — is on her trail.
Unlike the often dead-serious (to the point of cringe-inducing) video-game it is based on, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” has a distinct sense of black humor, not to mention that part about understanding its place in the universe. For those who haven’t read a comic book since Captain Marvel was in vogue, this probably isn’t for you. If, however, you’re into the nihilistic groove that seems to drive most of counterculture these days, it’s big-budget, stupid fun.
— By David Koon
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