MOVIE REVIEW-Dull and duller: <i>Legion</i>'s apocalyptic vision offers few thrills


So what were Americans spending their movie money on last weekend?

Avatar passed The Dark Knight to become the second-highest grosser of all time in the U.S. and Canada– it should surpass Titanic by Valentine's Day, although Titanic had lower ticket prices and no add-ons like 3-D and Imax to raise prices further– and already became number one internationally.

Second for the weekend in America, with half the gross of Avatar in its sixth weekend, was Legion, which is likely to be a one-week wonder. Like The Book of Eli it's a pseudo-spiritual thriller about an apocryphal apocalypse.

This time it hasn't happened yet– and may not, if turncoat ("I'm following my own orders now") Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) can prevent it. It's a time much like today, when "God lost faith in man" and planned to succeed where the Flood failed.

The setting is a dusty diner named Paradise Falls (symbolism much?) on the edge of the Mojave Desert. They don't usually do much business but on this day– December 23 (uh oh!)– the place fills up with character types.

Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid) owns the diner and runs it with a little help from his son Jeep (Lucas Black) and one-armed cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton). Waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) is eight months pregnant and doesn't want to keep the baby, but Jeep is eager to take care of it– and her– even though he's not the father.

A yuppie family– Howard (Jon Tenney), Sandra (Kate Walsh) and their slutty daughter (Willa Holland), who puts the "Audrey" in "tawdry," are waiting for Jeep to fix their BMW so they can move on. Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), a semi-thug on the verge of reforming, stops by to use the phone just as an old lady (Jeanette Miller) starts cussing, biting people and skittering around on the ceiling.

A plague of insects heralds Michael's arrival. I'm sure his tattoos are described in the Bible somewhere, but I can't quote chapter and verse. Anyway, all hell– or whatever– breaks loose as an army of "ordinary people" with pointy teeth attacks the diner. Michael has brought enough guns and ammo to fight them off– for now.

He warns that they'll be back, but while we're waiting, there's time for him to explain what's going on and for various people to get acquainted with each other through very dull conversations. Michael explains about God being pissed off and that the whole point of this cosmic battle is to keep Charlie's baby from being born. "Your child is the only hope humanity has of surviving," he tells her.

Considering the number of miscarriages that occur every day, God could probably cause one more a lot simpler than sending angels and pointy-toothed people– and I forgot to mention the Ice Cream Man– but then there wouldn't be a movie, and what a great loss that would be!

After another massive battle Michael's brother arrives, the Archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand). They talk a little, then look like they're going to kiss– no, maybe thumb-wrestle; then they fight to the death, or as close as an archangel can come to dying.

Legion is the first feature for director and co-writer Scott Stewart, whose previous work was mostly in special effects. The experience has probably taught him that computers are easier to program than people, who need to be told whether they're supposed to take a story seriously or play it the way it deserves to be played.

Most of the cast try for serious most of the time, but they can't make us believe it. This may not be Quaid's career worst, but it's got to come close. Gibson gives as good a performance as anyone, possibly because he doesn't have enough screen time to wear out his welcome.

The good effects are in the trailer. Just about everything else in Legion is silly, boring or both. If God wants to make humanity suffer, making movies like this is an effective way to do it.