Monday, January 25, 2010

Movie Review: Legion

Legion **
Directed By:
Scott Stewart.
Written By: Scott Stewart & Peter Schnik.
Starring: Paul Bettany (Michael), Lucas Black (Jeep Hanson), Dennis Quaid (Bob Hanson), Tyrese Gibson (Kyle Williams), Adrianne Palicki (Charlie), Charles S. Dutton (Percy Walker), Kevin Durand (Gabriel), Jon Tenney (Howard Anderson), Willa Holland (Audrey Anderson), Kate Walsh (Sandra Anderson), Jeanette Miller (Gladys Foster), Cameron Harlow (Minivan Boy), Doug Jones (Ice Cream Man).

Legion is neither as good as I hoped, nor as bad as I feared it would be. It is a movie that exists halfway in between good and bad, with some elements I admired, and some that I think fell completely flat. The idea for a good movie is here – it’s the execution that is off.

God has grown tired of all the shit that humanity is doing, and has essentially decided to exterminate us. To do the job, he has sent down angels to wipe us out – specifically to wipe out Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) who at eight months pregnant is apparently carrying the child who can lead humanity back to the Promised Land. Of course, this is news to Charlie who doesn’t even want the baby, is planning on giving it up for adoption, and doesn’t even care enough about it to stop smoking.

Charlie works as a waitress at one of those run down, dusty gas stations/diners out in the middle of nowhere that only exist in the movies, because they make a hell of place to bunker down when you’re attacked. You know the ones where the grizzled, unshaven owner named Bob (Dennis Quaid) bangs on the television to try to get reception, while complaining about his ex-wife, and trying to get his son Jeep (Lucas Black) to move away to make a better life for himself, although he won’t because he’s in love with Charlie, even though she’s carrying someone else’s kid, all the while listening to his cheerful, god fearing black cook named Percy (Charles S. Dutton). The one where a rich family, with a rebellious, sexy teenage daughter, Audrey (Willa Holland) argues with her mother, Sandra (Kate Walsh) who doesn’t really like her, while the husband Howard (Jon Tenney), tries to keep them together as they wait for Jeep to fix their car. And where a gang banger, with a good heart, named Kyle (Tyrese Gibson) from Vegas will show up because he’s lost and need to use the phone. And where, finally, an kindly old lady with a walker will come in, order a steak, call Charlie a whore, before going crazy and biting Howard in the neck, and go spider walking on the ceiling before Kyle puts three bullets in her back? That’s the diner.

We already know that Michael (Paul Bettany) is an angel, because in the opening scene of the movie, we see him crash to earth in L.A., cut off his wings and stitched up the holes in his back with a first aid kit, and then a kill a cop who has turned like the old woman, and stolen his police car to drive to Paradise Falls with enough automatic weapons to arm the Taliban with. Where does he get these weapons? Well, since it is an LAPD car, perhaps they were just in the trunk anyway. And while you would think the LAPD would try and chase the man who just killed one of their cops, and then stolen their police car (which most definitely would have a GPS monitor in it), you’d be wrong. He drives that car all the way to that deserted diner, just in time to help the people trapped there fight off wave after wave of people who have been possessed by angels. When that doesn’t work, God sends Gabriel himself (Kevin Durand) to try and finish the job. We see in flashback how Michael and Gabriel have differing opinions on God. Gabriel does what God asks him to do, whereas Michael does what God needs him to do. Big difference.

Okay, I think I’ve mocked the movie enough now. No, it makes no damn sense if you actually stop to think about any of it. But a movie like this doesn’t want you to think about any of it – it just wants you sit there and be entertained by all the violence and special effects. And on that level, the movie actually is kind of entertaining. Director and co-writer Scott Stewart is a former special effects guy, and does what he can with what was obviously much less money than James Cameron had to spend on Avatar. I think the demented Ice Cream Truck man who shows up, and whose legs and arms grow as he gallops into a hail of gunfire. Not to mention the demonic old lady, and one of the creepiest kids in recent memory. For the most part, the action sequences are handled fairly well – entertaining bursts of gunfire, with blood and guts pouring all over the place (the best one being what happens to poor Percy, who like every black cook in a diner that came before him, doesn’t last very long).

The movie is anchored by Paul Bettany’s performance as Michael, and it must be said that he actually quite good in the role. Yes, he is stuck spouting ridiculous dialogue, but he seems to actually believe it, and creates a real character out of his angel. The rest of the cast is not up to his level, but for the most part they try (okay, Quaid, a great actor, just seems to be phoning it in and waiting for his cheque to clear, but the rest of them are okay – better than the screenplay deserves anyway).

I read that this is supposed to be the first part in a planned trilogy for these characters (or the ones who survive anyway). If that’s the case, then I think that director Stewart would be smart to hire a script doctor if he ever gets part II green lit. The basis of a good movie is here – yes the ridiculousness of the concept aside, because honestly, most movies in this genre are ridiculous – he just needs to tweak it a little bit, so that the actors are saying things that they might actually say. Legion is far from a great movie. But it’s also far from a horrible one as well.

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