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Review: ‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’ will make you miss the dumb old days

A man aims a firearm downward as a woman looks on in the movie “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.”
Robbie Amell and Kaya Scodelario in the movie “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.”
(Shane Mahood / Screen Gems)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

With six films under its gun holster belt, the “Resident Evil” franchise gets a reboot with “Welcome to Raccoon City.” It feels too on the (decaying) nose to call writer-director Johannes Roberts’ 2021 take on the video game a zombified version of its predecessor, but when a movie is this brain-dead, the metaphor is earned. “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” may reward longtime fans of the video games by returning to the series’ origins, but others will find themselves wanting to leave town, much like the movie’s characters.

After decades of buoying Raccoon City, pharmaceutical company Umbrella Corporation has abandoned the town, turning it into a sparsely populated wasteland. Only cops and those too poor to escape are left, and the latter group begins to exhibit alarming symptoms. Soon, the police station is under attack by a zombie horde, and the remaining humans are desperate to escape Raccoon City as Umbrella Corporation intends to destroy the entire town to cover up its crimes.

Deep characterization is rarely a hallmark of either run-of-the-mill horror movies or video game adaptations, but “Welcome to Raccoon City” still manages to slink under that bar into the subbasement. There’s little to distinguish the cops in the film from one another as humans; there’s the sharpshooter (Hannah John-Kamen), the rookie screw-up (Avan Jogia), the one with the triceps (Tom Hopper), the irascible chief (Donal Logue) and, uh, the other ones.

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The Redfield siblings get a bit more time, but there’s still not much to grasp onto, especially with Robbie Amell’s good-guy cop Chris Redfield. Kaya Scodelario’s rebellious Claire Redfield continues the franchise’s dependence on strong female leads after the earlier incarnation found its strength in Milla Jovovich’s Alice. But while Scodelario ably carried the terror of “Crawl,” she’s not given much to work with here — and we’re not given much to root for.

With a police station as one of its central locations, “Welcome to Raccoon City” angles for “Assault on Precinct 13” vibes but falls short of the 2005 remake, to say nothing of the genius of the John Carpenter original. There’s no real sense of place, whether we’re talking about the station or the town as a whole, which is especially galling given that Raccoon City is supposed to be a central part of this mythology.

“Welcome to Raccoon City” is set in 1998, and even if you miss the title card with the date (Sept. 30, to be exact), the film hammers in its era with period-specific references (Blockbuster! CDs! PalmPilot!). If the nostalgic winks don’t make you feel old, the film’s primary approach to making things scary — an assaulting volume level — will.

The movie never successfully replicates the fear that was a hallmark of playing the video games, and its approach to ample gore is only as imaginative as a kid picking at a scab. A single cool scene — one lighted only by muzzle flashes — shows the stylistic promise on display in Roberts’ earlier film “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” but the movie is otherwise visually unremarkable, with some laughably bad CGI mutants.

The primary director of the first six films, Paul W.S. Anderson, gets a lot of flak, but at least he displayed knowledge of how to capably make a horror-action film. I never thought I’d long for Anderson’s directorial talents, but “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” made me miss the series’ good ol’ days.

‘Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’

Rated: R, for strong violence and gore, and language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 24 in general release


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