An­gel hurt

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

Le­gion, end-times thriller, rated R, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 1.5 chiles Say a lit­tle prayer for the re­main­ing post-hol­i­day movie sea­son, be­cause if it con­tains one more film that re­motely re­sem­bles the silly, ripped-from-the-scrip­ture blood­bath called Le­gion (filmed out­side Gal­is­teo, New Mex­ico), it may be a sign that cin­e­matic end times are truly upon us.

This isn’t to say that film geeks should im­me­di­ately duct-tape their win­dows, hoard cases of Moun­tain Dew, bulk up their Net­flix queues, and can­cel their Valen­tine’s Day din­ner-and-aflick plans. Great moviemak­ing will most likely con­tinue, and Le­gion— for all of its me­an­der­ing di­a­logue, choppy edit­ing, throw­away char­ac­ters, and heavy re­liance on plot mech­a­nisms and action set pieces bor­rowed from much bet­ter films— is not without a few mem­o­rable mo­ments. How­ever, if hu­man­ity has any faith in Hol­ly­wood’s abil­ity to es­ti­mate the in­tel­li­gence of its ticket-buy­ing dis­ci­ples, watch­ing this film tests that faith to the outer lim­its of the uni­verse— or, in this case, to the gates of a shod­dily ren­dered CGI heaven.

Di­rec­tor/co-screen­writer Scott Ste­wart— the bulk of whose cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence rests in the vis­ual-ef­fects realm— at­tempts to present a thrilling mix of hor­ror, action, and bib­li­cal prophecy, all bound to­gether by his proven abil­ity (in his work for such

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films as Harry Pot­ter and the Goblet of Fire, Red Cliff, and Iron Man) to please the eye. In­stead, he gives audiences a crudely edited, poorly scripted moral­ity play on faith, abor­tion, and self-sac­ri­fice… with bul­lets— lots of them.

An an­gel named Michael (played by Paul Bet­tany, who sowed his creepy-re­li­gious-guy oats as Si­las, the al­bino, self-flog­ging Opus Dei monk in The Da Vinci Code) de­scends from heaven, hacks off his own wings, and loads up on guns, ammo, and rocket-pro­pelled grenades— and the wheels of apoc­a­lyp­tic chaos are set in mo­tion. Michael’s mis­sion: to save an un­born child. Michael must, in de­fi­ance of a God who has given up on those cre­ated in his own im­age, for­sake God’s or­ders to ex­ter­mi­nate hu­mankind — and try to save us in­stead.

Miles away, at a dusty Ne­vada gas sta­tion and diner called Par­adise Falls, what ap­pears to be the cast of a Tremors fran­chise re­boot is won­der­ing why the ra­dios, phones, and tele­vi­sions aren’t work­ing. When a pos­sessed se­nior ci­ti­zen threat­ens to kill the un­born baby of Char­lie (Adri­anne Pal­icki) — a wait­ress who has con­sid­ered ter­mi­nat­ing her preg­nancy (and still smokes cigarettes)— the din­ers be­come the dined-on. And then all hell— well, heaven, ac­tu­ally— breaks loose.

Michael ar­rives at the diner, tells every­one they’re just lambs for the slaugh­ter, and then passes out bul­lets and bib­li­cal prophecy like he’s op­er­at­ing an Ar­maged­don­pre­pared­ness drive-through win­dow. Par­adise Falls’ cus­tomers and staff con­sist of the usual sus­pects found in the in­creas­ingly for­mu­laic, desert-set, good-guys-vs.-bad-guys end-times genre: Bob Han­son (Den­nis Quaid), the bit­ter, beer-swill­ing diner owner whose back story of a failed mar­riage and lim­ited busi­ness acu­men means that he’ll be good for some en­light­en­ment and ful­filled re­venge fan­tasies down the road; Jeep Han­son, Bob’s son (played by Sling Blade’s Lu­cas Black, all grown-up and hunky now, but re­tain­ing his syrupy, in­fec­tious south­ern drawl), the brood­ing coun­try boy/grease mon­key who wants the girl— even if she’s re­luc­tantly car­ry­ing a stranger’s baby; Kyle (Tyrese Gib­son), the req­ui­site SUV-driv­ing, gun-tot­ing char­ac­ter with a shady past who is just try­ing to pre­serve a long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship with his son; Percy (Charles S. Dut­ton), the short-or­der cook and Bob’s busi­ness part­ner, who can re­cite verse and em­bod­ies the re­li­giously de­vout among the group; and a bick­er­ing yup­pie cou­ple (KateWalsh and Jon Ten­ney) who drag their bratty, scant­ily clad teenage daugh­ter (Willa Hol­land) along a lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive high­way of shat­tered dreams.

Some in this spark-free en­sem­ble cast get their druthers, while oth­ers step up to the plate to de­fend the un­born baby (a new mes­siah or per­haps the re­turn of J.C.— it’s never made clear) from what’s about to come: zom­bie-like angels, de­scended from heaven on God’s or­ders and in­hab­it­ing the bodies of mor­tals, fixin’ to wipe out the hu­man race. They love to chew on necks and crawl on ceil­ings, but they’re also eas­ier to kill than cock­roaches.

Lead­ing the charge from heaven is the an­gel Gabriel, Michael’s brother, played dev­il­ishly well by Kevin Du­rand ( Lost, Smokin’ Aces). Cos­tumed like a feath­ered S&M Bat­man with a touch of Spar­ta­cusstyle sex ap­peal, Gabriel is God’s lit­tle pet, fol­low­ing his or­ders with un­wa­ver­ing al­le­giance. Will Gabriel, like Michael, learn to love us sad hu­mans un­con­di­tion­ally— and for­give us our sins?

Ste­wart’s script (co-writ­ten with Peter Schink) makes a mess of bib­li­cal prophecy, but when you’re bor­row­ing so heav­ily from the Ter­mi­na­tor fran­chise, The Mist, Tremors, The Ex­or­cist, 28 Days Later, and From Dusk Till Dawn, the Good Book is bound to get lost in the mix.

Le­gion is of­ten fun to look at, al­ways un­com­fort­able to lis­ten to — flesh-eat­ing angels on the hori­zon? Cue the death metal, spooky op­er­atic cho­ruses, and cheesy di­a­logue — and ul­ti­mately fails to live up to the prom­ise of its trailer. It may be pass­able for wingnut sur­vival­ists and spe­cial-ef­fects en­thu­si­asts who want to see ex­plod­ing tor­sos and enough gun­fire to make Pulp Fic­tion look tame by com­par­i­son. But if you’re looking for a gen­uine cin­e­matic sav­ior who can de­liver the whole en­chi­lada, you’re bet­ter off pay­ing tithes at the box of­fice to an­other J.C.— James Cameron, that is.

Stop! Or my an­gel will shoot: Paul Bet­tany and Adri­anne Pal­icki

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