It begins like "The Road," with a lone survivor wandering through an end-of-days landscape. But within minutes "The Book of Eli" turns into "The Matrix," starring Denzel Washington as a sword-swinger skilled enough to outwit Neo, or at least Lara Croft.
Then comes the real surprise: You're actually watching a film about religion, and a passably intelligent one at that.
Delightfully unclassifiable - or perhaps classifiable in a dozen different ways - "The Book of Eli" is a thinking man's action film, even if Gary Whitta's script gives up thinking by the end. The movie is an intriguing mix of pulp and parable, and while it may be absurd, it's never dull.
Washington plays a knight-samurai-cowpoke heading west, ever west, with a fistful of bullets, an iPod full of Al Green and a leather-bound Bible, the world's last. While passing through a lawless town - its saloon perfect for fighting in - our hero is detained by a selfappointed despot named Carnegie (Gary Oldman, dependably wiggy).
Carnegie has it all: food, water and women, including a fiery-eyed Mila Kunis and a surprisingly good Jennifer Beals as her blind mother. But he really wants that Bible. "It's a weapon," he screams to his dull-eyed henchmen, "aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate!"
What follows is an extended manhunt, punctuated by Gatling guns and spurting lungs, and directed at comic-book velocity by Albert and Allen Hughes ("Menace II Society"). Underneath it all, however, lies a strong belief in the power of ideas. For a genre flick, "The Book of Eli" packs some extra weight in its punch.