Review: ‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,’ starring Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue and Neal McDonough

November 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Avan Jogia and Kaya Scodelario in “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” (Photo by Shane Mahood/Screen Gems)

“Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City”

Directed by Johannes Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1998 in the fictional Midwestern town of Raccoon City, the horror flick “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few multiracial people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s returns to her childhood hometown of Raccoon City to visit her cop brother, only to discover that Raccoon City will soon be overtaken by zombies and is the target of a more sinister plan. 

Culture Audience: “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Resident Evil” franchise and anyone who doesn’t mind watching a predictable and silly horror flick.

Robbie Amell, Chad Rook, Hannah John-Kamen and Tom Hopper in “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” (Photo by Shane Mahood/Screen Gems)

When will the makers of bad zombie films learn that gory doesn’t always equal scary? “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has plenty of gore but absolutely nothing terrifying or imaginative. It’s just a ridiculous rehash of all the things of people hate the most about terrible horror movies: Shallow characters who make dumb decisions; unrealistic action scenes; and muddled storytelling that fails to be engaging.

By now, the “Resident Evil” movie series (which is based on the “Resident Evil” video games) has such a tarnished reputation for being low-quality junk that audiences should expect that any movie with the words “resident evil” in the title will be nothing but schlock. But schlock can be entertaining if it’s done the right way. Unfortunately, “Resident Evil: Raccoon City” is more of the same disappointing garbage.

Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer/director of most of the “Resident Evil” movies, is not the writer/director of “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” but he is an executive producer. Instead, Johannes Roberts wrote and directed “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” a prequel that starts off with the most tiresome cliché of tiresome clichés in a horror movie: The “fake-out freak-out” scene where something frightening is supposed to be happening. But surprise! It was only someone’s nightmare. This is how the movie’s two sibling main characters are introduced.

Claire Redfield (played by Kaya Scodelario) and her older brother Chris Redfield (played by Robbie Amell) are first seen as children in the Raccoon City Orphanage, where they have been living since their parents died in a car accident. Claire is about 8 years old, while Chris is about 10. Raccoon City is in an unnamed U.S. state in the Midwest. (“Resident Evil: Raccoon City” was actually filmed in Canada, in the Ontario cities of Sudbury and Hamilton.)

While at the orphanage, which looks more like hospital in a war zone, it’s nighttime, and Claire is woken up by someone who seems to have touched her. Viewers will see a gnarly and dirty hand with long fingernails outstretched as if it’s going to hurt Claire, but the hand suddenly pulls back.

Claire tells Chris what she thinks she saw. “She’s here again!” Claire says in an alarmed voice. Chris tells Claire that whatever Claire saw, it was probably her imagination. However, Claire is convinced that something strange is in the orphanage. She takes a look around the orphanage to investigate.

And sure enough, crouched in the corner of a room in a makeshift tent is a mutant-looking woman, with matted hair and distorted physical features. It’s the same woman who tried to wake up Claire. This severely disfigured woman, who doesn’t look entirely human, is wearing a wristband with the name Lisa Trevor (played by Marina Mazepa). Claire now knows this woman’s name.

Instead of screaming or running away, like most people would do, Claire calmly asks, “Where do you live?” The woman writes down on a piece of paper: “Below.” Suddenly, the orphanage’s resident doctor appears and startles Claire by asking her: “What are you doing, little girl?” It’s then that Claire screams out loud, and the scene cuts to the adult Claire waking up because this entire childhood scene was supposed to be a nightmare.

It’s now 1998, and Claire is now in her late 20s. Her nightmare happened while she was napping in the passenger seat of a truck. She’s a hitchhiker on her way to visit Chris. And the sleazy truck driver (played by Pat Thornton) who’s giving her this ride is trying to put some moves on her, but she’s clearly not interested. Don’t expect this movie to reveal what Claire is doing with her life, but she obviously doesn’t have the money to rent a car, take a taxi or hire a car service.

It’s pouring rain at night, as it often does in horror movies when people are driving on a deserted road and this next thing happens: Someone suddenly appears out of nowhere in front of the automobile, like a ghostly figure. In this movie, the wannabe road-kill stranger is a woman, and the truck driver ends up hitting her because he couldn’t swerve away fast enough.

When the trucker and Claire get out of the truck, the bloodied woman hisses like the zombie that she is, and she runs away into a nearby wooded area. Meanwhile, the trucker has a dog that gets out of the truck too. The dog licks some of the zombie’s blood off of the street, so you know what’s going to happen to the dog later in the movie.

Somehow, Claire makes it to Chris’ home. Instead of seeing if he’s home, she just breaks into the house like a thief. It turns out that she hasn’t seen or spoken to Chris for five years, and her visit is unannounced, but it’s still no reason to break into his house. It’s just an example of how stupid this movie is. Chris is home and is shocked to see Claire, who tells him sarcastically that he’s not a very good cop if he doesn’t have good security for his home.

Claire notices a framed photo in Chris’ house that seems to disturb her. He’s in the photo with the same scientist/doctor who frightened Claire in her nightmare. This scientist really exists and he’s a menacing person from Claire’s past. His name is William Birkin (played by Neal McDonough), who is the movie’s obvious villain. (He’s got plenty of sneers, smirks and crazy-eyed stares to make it obvious.)

Claire’s immediate reaction is repulsion when she finds out that William has become a father figure/mentor to Chris. A flashback in the movie later shows why she thinks William is evil. Chris, on the other hand, completely trusts William. Chris tells Claire that William helped Chris out a lot in life, and William is the closest thing that Chris has to family. Of course, since the movie telegraphs so early that William is an evil scientist, there’s no suspense at all when his “secret” is revealed.

It’s explained in some captions on screen that Raccoon City used to be a thriving community. The city’s biggest employer was a pharmaceutical company called Umbrella Corporation, which had its headquarters in Raccoon City. However, a scandal nearly destroyed the company. And now, Raccoon City is a shadow of its former self. The only people who have remained in Raccoon City are some employees of Umbrella and “people who are too poor to leave.”

It’s revealed a little later in the movie that Claire ran away from Raccoon City when she was a teenager. Chris somewhat resents her for it because he feels that she abandoned him, and she’s the only biological family that he has. Why is Claire back in Raccoon City if she dislikes it so much? She’s had a “premonition” that something bad is going to happen there, and she wants to convince Chris to move out as soon as possible.

She shows Chris a videotape that she has of a former Umbrella employee named Ben Bertolucci (played by Josh Cruddas), who claims to be a whistleblower exposing some of the company’s secrets. One of the biggest secrets is that Umbrella “poisoned the water” in the area. And there was a “really bad leak” that could do Chernobyl-like damage to the area. Ben says he has information that this explosion will completely destroy Raccoon City by 6 a.m. on the day after Claire has arrived to urge Chris to evacuate.

Most of the action in the movie starts after 11 p.m. on the night before this supposed explosion, and then the climactic part of the movie is close to the 6 a.m. deadline. And where exactly is Ben now? That’s shown in the movie, but in a very haphazard way.

At first, Chris doesn’t think there’s any merit to Ben’s claims. But then, people in Raccoon City start turning into zombies. It becomes a race against time to not only survive the zombies but also try to find a way out of Raccoon City before it supposedly explodes.

This relatively low-budget movie has a relatively small cast of characters. The only people who are seen actively trying to leave Raccoon City are Claire, Chris and Chris’ co-workers in Raccoon City’s small police force. These other cops are:

  • Chief Brian Irons (played by Donal Logue), who’s a loud-mouthed bully.
  • Leon S. Kennedy (played by Avan Jogia), a mild-mannered rookie cop who is the target of Chief Irons’ worst taunting.
  • Jill Valentine (played by Hannah John-Kamen), a sassy extrovert who seems to be attracted to Leon, even though she’s dating another co-worker.
  • Albert Wesker (played by Tom Hopper), who is Jill’s boyfriend and someone who thinks he’s the bravest one on the police force.
  • Richard Aiken (played by Chad Rook), a generic and forgettable cop.

Leaving the city isn’t as easy as it sounds. Government officials have sealed off the roads leading out of the city and have stationed armed security at the borders to prevent anyone from leaving. One of the characters in the movie finds out the hard way about these barriers. The cops try to exit Raccoon City by getting a helicopter from a guy named Brad Vickers (played by Nathan Dales), but that plan doesn’t go smoothly.

And because this movie takes place in 1998, smartphones don’t exist. Needless to say, the landline phones aren’t working during this crisis. There’s brief mention of Internet service, but this is in the days of dial-up Internet service, which needed landlines. In 1998, an example of cutting-edge mobile technology was a PalmPilot, which someone is seen using in the film, even though it doesn’t help that person get out of this emergency situation.

One of the many reasons why this movie looks so phony is that all the young cops in the movie look exactly like who they are: physically attractive Hollywood actors. There are no “average” lookers in this bunch of young, subordinate cops. The only middle-paged person on the police force is Chief Irons, who turns out to be a coward of the worst kind. You don’t have to be a cop to know that there’s no city police force in the world where everyone except the leader is a good-looking person under the age of 40.

Maybe the filmmakers of “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” think that having “eye candy” cops would distract viewers from the movie’s dumb plot. One of the more ludicrous scenes in the movie takes place at an eatery called Emmy’s Diner. Leon notices that his waitress Jenny (played by Louise Young) has a right eye that’s bleeding.

When he shows concern and asks Jenny if she’s had a doctor examine her eye, she says no. Jenny adds that her eye has been bleeding this way for the past two weeks, but “it’s no big deal.” Of course, we all know what’s going to happen to that waitress in this zombie movie.

Everything is so monotonously formulaic in “Resident Evil: Welcome to the Raccoon City.” After a while, you can almost do a countdown to the clichés that will come next. There are too many scenes where someone shows up at just the right moment to “come from behind” to shoot someone. One particular character in this movie is saddled with this over-used cliché.

And for a movie about zombies, the cops are woefully incompetent in killing them. They often don’t shoot the zombies in the head. And if they do, they don’t check to see if the zombie is really dead. It’s all just a way to pad and stretch out the story with weak attempts at jump scares involving zombies that looked like they’ve been killed but aren’t really dead after all.

None of the acting in this movie is very impressive. Jogia portrays Leon as having a mostly nonchalant attitude during this whole crisis, with only a few scenes where he looks realistically frightened. McDonough goes in a completely opposite direction because his wild-eyed performance is very over-the-top. The filmmakers intend to make Leon an underdog whom audiences are supposed to root for to succeed. However, the movie tells almost nothing about Leon except that his father is a high-ranking police officer in another city, and Leon was transferred to Raccoon City as punishment for accidentally shooting his cop partner in the rear end.

The movie’s visual effects are adequate, but there’s nothing innovative at all. Lisa is supposed to look like a “two-headed monster” with a mask made out of flesh. It literally looks like the movie’s makeup department just glued a mask to the actress’ face to make it look like she has two heads sticking out of her neck. Everything in “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has been done already in better horror flicks about zombies or mutants.

Claire is the story’s central protagonist, but viewers will learn nothing about who she was as an adult before she arrived in Raccoon City. For a better thriller movie starring Scodelario, see 2019’s “Crawl,” where she plays a college student trapped in a house with alligators during a hurricane. “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has a mid-credits scene with the appearance of mysterious spy character Ada Wong (played by Lily Gao), but this cameo does nothing to redeem the rest of this junkpile movie.

Screen Gems will release “Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City” in U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ starring James Marsden and Jim Carrey

February 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tika Sumpter, James Marsden and Sonic in "Sonic the Hedgehog"
Tika Sumpter, James Marsden and Sonic in “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Sega of America)

“Sonic the Hedgehog”

Directed by Jeff Fowler

Culture Representation: Set primarily in Montana and in San Francisco, the predominantly white cast of human characters in “Sonic the Hedgehog” (based on the Sega video game) mostly represent people who work in law enforcement or work for the government.

Culture Clash: An alien blue male hedgehog named Sonic that can travel at the freakishly fast pace of the speed of light tries to evade capture by the U.S. government, which wants to do experiments on him to find out why he has this special power.

Culture Audience: “Sonic the Hedgehog” will appeal primarily to fans of the video-game franchise and people who like children-oriented entertainment that has a formulaic and predictable story.

Jim Carrey in "Sonic the Hedgehog" (Photo by Doane Gregory)
Jim Carrey in “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Photo by Doane Gregory)

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is exactly the mediocre movie for kids that you would expect it to be. Based on the Sega video-game franchise whose popularity peaked in the 1990s, this is the first movie about Sonic the Hedgehog, a wisecracking blue hedgehog that comes from another planet and has the power to travel at the speed of light. In the movie (which combines live-action with animation), Sonic is an animated character voiced by Ben Schwartz, the comedian/actor who’s best known for playing Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on the NBC 2009-2015 sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”

Movies that are based on video games tend to be average-to-bad. Your brain will thank you if you never see “Super Mario Bros.,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “Warcraft” or most of the “Resident Evil” movies. And with the bar set very, very low for quality, “Sonic the Hedgehog” does little to raise that bar and instead rushes right under that bar with a flimsy story that’s predictable from beginning to end.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is the first feature film for director Jeff Fowler, whose only previous movie-directing experience is a short film. The “Sonic the Hedgehog” screenplay was written by Patrick Casey and Josh Miller, whose previous writing experience has been in mostly TV and short films. That lack of feature-film experience shows, because the entire movie looks like it could’ve been a half-hour cartoon episode, but it’s instead stretched into a feature-length film with a thin plot and the budget of a major movie studio.

The beginning of the movie shows Sonic’s childhood in another dimension, where he was raised by a female guardian owl called Longclaw (voiced by Donna Jay Fulks). An apocalyptic disaster strikes their world, and Longclaw saves Sonic by opening up a portal to Earth. Longclaw gives Sonic a bag of magical gold rings, and tells Sonic that he has to live on Earth from now on, and the only way to stay safe is to stay hidden.

The gold rings will open an emergency portal to a deserted planet that has nothing but a terrain of planted mushrooms. Longclaw tells Sonic that he should go to this planet only as a last resort if things on Earth get too dangerous. For now, Earth is a better alternative, since at least Sonic won’t be alone on Earth.

Sonic ends up secretly living in a cave in the fictional small town of Green Hills, Montana. His presence is undetected except for an eccentric old man named Crazy Carl (played by Frank C. Turner), who’s seen Sonic and has been telling the townspeople that there’s a “blue devil” that lives in the town. He’s even drawn a picture of the “blue devil” and it looks a lot like Sonic. Naturally, the townspeople think Crazy Carl has fabricated the whole story, and they don’t take him seriously.

Meanwhile, Sonic (who tends to only come out at night) has been secretly spying on a married couple in town—police officer Tom Wachowski (played by James Marsden) and his veterinarian wife Maddie Wachowski (played by Tika Sumpter)—who have no kids and live a comfortable and happy life with their Golden Retriever dog. Sonic yearns to be a part of their family, but he can’t risk exposing himself because he knows that he will be captured and put into some kind of custody.

Tom is feeling restless and bored in Green Hills—his job consists primarily of monitoring a deserted road to try and catch speeding drivers—so he’s applied for and gotten a job at the San Francisco Police Department. An exciting day for him as a Green Hills Police Officer is when he sees a turtle on the road. One of Tom’s co-workers is a dim-witted cop named Wade (played by Adam Pally), whose only purpose in this movie is to both annoy Tom and alleviate some of Tom’s boredom.

One day, as Tom is watching the speed monitor in his police car, he notices a blue blur go by in a lightning flash, and the speed monitor has lit up to show that something passed by that was traveling at hundreds of miles per hour. However, Tom can’t see anything that he could investigate, so he assumes it was a malfunction of the speed monitor.

Sonic has the personality and energy of a mischievous teenager, so it isn’t long before the inevitable happens: Sonic makes his presence known. One night, while speeding, he causes an electrical light storm that results in a massive power outage in several states. The power is eventually restored, but the U.S. government gets involved to investigate what caused the blackout.

Meanwhile, Sonic realizes the disaster he has caused and fears that the authorities will catch him, so he leaves his home cave and is hiding in a shed in Tom’s backyard. Sonic has taken the bag of rings and opened the portal to try and hide out on the mushroom planet, when Tom sees Sonic and shoots him with a tranquilizer gun. In a panic, Sonic drops the bag of rings in the portal, but one ring is left behind.

Tom is also frightened by this strange creature, so he takes Sonic into his house, the tranquilizer wears off, and he’s shocked to see that it’s a talking hedgehog. Sonic tells Tom that he caused the power outage and begs Tom not turn him over to the authorities. Tom’s wife Maddie isn’t at home because she’s gone ahead to San Francisco to look for their new home and is temporarily staying with her sister Rachel (played by Natasha Rothwell), who’s a single mother to an elementary-school-aged daughter.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has reluctantly enlisted the help of a genius scientist named Dr. Robotnik (played by Jim Carrey), who’s apparently the only person they know who they think can solve the mystery of the power outage. Dr. Robotnik has a history of being a mentally unstable egomaniac, so some of the government officials don’t like the idea that Robotnik has been brought on board to help them.

But they’re overruled, and Robotnik proceeds to take over the investigation, with a loyal and long-suffering henchman named Agent Stone (played by Lee Majdoub) as Robotnik’s right-hand man. Robotnik clashes with U.S. Army Major Bennington (played by Neal McDonough), who also wants to be the hero who gets credit for this mission. But, of course, Robotnik isn’t really a hero, since he has an ulterior motive to find the source of the problem, use it to gain more power, and then take over the world.

Through some of his high-tech inventions, Robotnik is able to track the energy source of the power outage to Tom’s home, where Robotnik immediately goes to investigate further. Tom reluctantly lets Robotnik into his home while Sonic tries to hide. Of course, Robotnik sees Sonic, and then tries and fails to capture him. Tom and Sonic escape, and they become fugitives of the law, with not only Robotnik after them but also various branches of the U.S. military. Robotnik also uses an army of flying drones to help track down the fugitives.

The rest of the movie is basically one long chase, as Tom and Sonic take a road trip to San Francisco, where Sonic figures that he can use the Transamerica Pyramid as a signal to open the portal again and retrieve his bag of magical rings. Even with this cartoonish and silly plot, the visual effects in “Sonic the Hedgehog” don’t make up for it, because the visuals aren’t very impressive, by today’s movie standards. This is the type of movie that would look dazzling back in the 1990s, but not now. And it’s not the kind of movie that someone needs to see in a movie theater.

As the chief villain, Carrey is clearly having a lot of fun in his campy Dr. Robotnik role, but the rest of the human characters are so basic and by-the-numbers that there really isn’t much to the movie except to see the inevitable showdown between Dr. Robotnik and the duo of Sonic and Tom. Children younger than the age of 10 will probably enjoy “Sonic the Hedgehog” the most, but everyone else will have to sit through the same recycled tropes that have been seen many times before in TV cartoons over the years.

Paramount Pictures released “Sonic the Hedgehog” in U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.

 

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