MOVIE REVIEW-Apocalypse redux: Book of Eli is doom-y and gloomy.


Considering how long it takes to get a movie made, Hollywood's depression must have started before the current economic downturn. In fact, maybe things were going so well they thought we'd be up for a little doom and gloom on screen.

Whatever the reason, in less than four months we've had three movies (The Road, 2012 and The Book of Eli) set during or after an apocalypse (to be followed by the verge-of-apocalypse Legion) and two set after some kind of event that turned almost everyone into vampires (Daybreakers) or zombies (the decidedly lighter Zombieland).

The Book of Eli begins like The Road with more product placement but evolves into if not a feelgood version, at least a "Good News" version. It's "Mad Max" for the Tyler Perry crowd.

In the beginning of the end, we eventually learn, "The War tore a hole in the sky," and most of the people who weren't fried were blinded. Whoever took charge of whatever was left decreed that all Bibles should be burned, but Eli (Denzel Washington) heard a voice telling him to hold on to one and travel westward with it until he finds the place where it can be useful.

Thirty years have passed.  Eli must be a slow walker, unless he can walk on water–which is not impossible, considering the other superpowers he manifests. Attacked by six hijackers, one armed with a chainsaw, he smites them all with his terrible swift sword. He's got the survival thing down pat, from shooting small game with a bow and arrow for food to taking shoes off corpses to bathing with HandiWipes from fast food restaurants.

Eli's travels through the bleak, colorless landscape bring him to a small community ruled by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), who turns out to be a fellow Bible-follower ("I grew up with it. I know its power....It's not right to keep that book hidden away. It's meant to be shared")–  but not a nice one ("It's a weapon aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It'll give us control over them").

With a gang of thugs doing his bidding, Carnegie already has power over this town, but he's apparently got franchising in mind. He's been sending "road crews" out to round up whatever books they can find, in hopes that a Bible will be among them. Now one walks into town with Eli.

Among those in Carnegie's thrall are blind Claudia (Jennifer Beals) and her daughter Solara (Mila Kunis), the hottest female on what's left of the planet. When Eli leaves, after besting most of Carnegie's troops in a gunfight, Solara begs to go along. Carnegie follows in a motorcade but they're unable to overtake the two pedestrians before dark.

The movie's full of silly mistakes, from Eli leaving arrows behind in men he's killed as if he has an unlimited supply, to a 78 r.p.m. record of a disco song from 1979, a good quarter-century after 78s were phased out.  Though we're told hardly anyone is left who remembers the old days, few of the people we see look like members of the postwar generation.

It's interesting how Gary Whitta's screenplay sucks viewers into a standard, ultra-violent futuristic fantasy before revealing its true intent. The Bible serves as a MacGuffin, the thing opposing forces are fighting over, long before its identity, let alone its significance, is revealed.

Although there are some Christian messages along the way, the longest Bible passages spoken are both from the Old Testament.

The Hughes Brothers may have made The Book of Eli too arty for the action crowd and too violent for the church crowd without making it so good it transcends genre for a mass audience in search of a great movie.  It'll be worth renting, but it's not good enough to avoid the trash heap of movies that show the Earth of the near future as a trash heap.  #