In the late 21st Century, a massive conglomerate known as the Umbrella Corporation is responsible for supplying much of the world with computer hardware, medicine and all things scientific. The company also secretly develops military equipment, including biological and chemical weaponry, in 'The Hive', a giant research complex buried deep beneath the earth. When the Hive's central computer appears to go haywire, sealing its doors and imprisoning hundreds of scientists and their families, a squad of commandos are sent in to find out what happened.
This idiotic zombie actioner comes accompanied by that most-dreaded of credits: 'Based on the computer game'; those who've endured Tomb Raider, Street Fighter or Super Mario Brothers will know the kind of trouble that spells. But if you are going to turn a video game into a movie, then Paul W.S. Anderson is probably the director you want on board. Anderson made sure that 1995's Mortal Kombat wasn't completely terrible, and does at least understand that the best thing to do is focus almost entirely on what made the game enjoyable – in this case skulking around darkened corridors with a big gun, blowing ravenous zombies away.
Yep, what these unlucky soldiers find down there is the Hive's entire population killed by the out-of-control computer system and brought back to life by a virus that was being developed for military use. In not wanting to waste unnecessarily time on exposition, Anderson comes up with the masterstroke of giving leading lady Milla Jovovich temporary amnesia, so that the entire set-up can be explained quickly and concisely to her – and us. Jovovich is hopelessly miscast – beautiful yet bemused, she looks like she's accidentally wandered in from the set of one of her hair-dye ads. Michelle Rodriguez makes a far feistier heroine, but she's bitten by a zombie halfway through and spends the rest of the film limping and moaning.
One thing Anderson is good at is noisy action, and there are some exciting chases through the Hive as the increasing depleted team attempt to outrun the swarms of hungry undead. But Resident Evil suffers by being so close in plot and tone to James Cameron's Aliens and George A. Romero's Day of the Dead – the best bits tend to be pinched straight out of these films, and it generally lacks Cameron's breathless pacing or Romero's intense atmospherics (and indeed his taste for extravagant gore). It's trashily watchable though, and worth sticking with for the scene in which Jovovich uses some suddenly-discovered kickboxing skills on a pack of zombie dogs.