If you're a newcomer to the "Resident Evil" franchise, you may have concerns about walking in cold to movie No. 5. After all, what do you know about T-Viruses and zombie storm troopers? Fortunately, writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson begins with some lengthy exposition about the shadowy Umbrella Corporation and its profit-generating pandemics. Once you're all caught up, let the stabbing, shooting and slow-motion martial-arts sequences begin.
That's about all "Resident Evil: Retribution" has to offer, and there's no use complaining that it feels like a video game since it's based on one (launched by Capcom in 1996). Moving from scenario to scenario with different backgrounds and levels of difficulty, "Retribution" is essentially a video game you don't even have to play.
It's also tacit acknowledgment that those curvaceous but dead-eyed avatars on your PlayStation aren't as sexy as living bodies. The women here are living fetish objects, distinguished mostly by their outfits: Alice (Milla Jovovich), our zombie-battling heroine, wears special-ops S&M gear; Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) dresses like an evil debutante; Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez, not seen since the original film) favors butchy tank-tops. Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) serves as the Asian doll in a side-slit red dress. The men are mostly interchangeable soldier-types who say things like "Synchronize your watches!"
There are some nifty visuals (a bloody beat-down in a glowing white hallway), but the script is incoherent and the acting is terrible -- avatars would have been an improvement. (Rodriguez, an underappreciated action star, is an exception; so is Aryana Engineer as Becky, a new daughter figure to Alice.) It's hard to care whether these characters survive all the randomly generated monsters, but "Retribution" has introduced the idea of clones so that characters can be killed and brought back to life. Hey, just like a video game!
PLOT Apocalypse survivor and zombie killer Alice is back -- and she has a daughter.
RATING R (extreme violence and gore)
GRADE 1 star
BOTTOM LINE Bloody action, bloodless acting, no plot -- kind of like a video game, except you can't turn it off.