Last bit of dignity shed in ridiculous religious thriller

Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010


Bold Films

1 hour, 40 minutes

It happens every summer, usually right at the height of blockbuster season. Despite the release of some big budget Hollywood extravaganza -- this time it was "Shrek 4," a sequel no one seemed to be clamoring for -- I find myself too busy to actually make it to the theater in time for my press deadline. So while I didn't get to see Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy try to squeeze the last little bit of juice out of a tired franchise, I did get to see Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid shed every last bit of dignity in the ridiculous religious thriller, "Legion."

"Legion," just recently out on video, is one of those movies about which I remember thinking, "Hmmm. Angels, gunfights, demons ... could be OK." It did come out in January, which is a bad time for movies, but at least, I thought, it has Dennis Quaid. That's something!

Turns out the inclusion of Quaid helped the movie not at all, nor could it possibly have been good for his career.

Bettany plays the angel Michael who, after a policy dispute, decides to disobey God and save mankind from a coming Apocalypse. Apparently God, fed up with man's inhumanity to man, has decided to scour the planet again, conveniently forgetting that whole rainbow promise, I guess.

This time, instead of a flood, he's sending millions of angels to Earth to possess human beings and do ... what? I'm not sure how this brings about the end of times for the general populace, but scary angel possessions become very important for a plucky band of survivors, holed up in a run-down cafe in the middle of nowhere California.

The restaurant, cleverly named Paradise Falls, contains a cornucopia of stereotypes, from the snooty rich couple whose car broke down, to the rebellious teen, to the deadbeat dad, to the fry cook with a heart of gold. Also in attendance are a hard luck father and son, played by Quaid and Lucas Black. Quaid plays Bob, owner of the cafe, and bitter that his son, Jeep, is hanging around this nowheresville instead of moving on the greener pastures.

Jeep is here for one reason only, and that reason is eight months pregnant and works the lunch shift. Charlie her name is, and her unborn child is, conveniently, the one and only hope for mankind.

It's this fact that brings not only an army of shambling angel drones to the Paradise Falls Cafe, but also the angel Michael, bearing a carful of automatic weapons.

Can this motley crew stay alive long enough for the baby to be born? Will a leather-clad angel Gabriel show up with a wicked spinning spiked mace? And will anyone care by the end of this 100-minute long trainwreck?

"Legion" is one of those action movies that slathers theology on with a trowel, hoping a bunch of mysticism and vague spirituality will fill in the plot holes. Sometimes this works, as in the entertaining but silly "Constantine." In contrast, with "Legion," the structure is so shoddy that no amount of biblical plagues and messiah references can keep it from collapsing in a heap.

Why is the child so important? Who knows. Why does God pick such a singularly ineffective way to wipe out mankind? Beats me, unless he's into zombie movies, which is what "Legion" quickly turns into. And the biggest question, why is God such a jerk? Often these types of films like to cast God as a kind of antagonist, but only in the sense that He's somehow unavailable or perceived to be uncaring, a premise that invariably turns out to be false in the end.

In this movie, God sparks armageddon not for any greater plan or purpose, but because He's ticked. It's up to Michael to show Him the error of His ways. As our hero tells a petulant Gabriel, castigated for actually following God's orders, "You give him what he wants, I give him what he needs." OK ... presume much?

"Legion" has little to offer aside from a few cool effects and some truly hilarious unintentional dialogue. The main reason to avoid it, however, is not the plot holes or the fact that the screenwriter seems to be asking for a lighting bolt straight to the head. No, the worst part about the film is the depressingly bad performance given by the usually reliable Quaid. Maybe he was drunk, or preoccupied by worries about his brother's unpaid hotel bills, but the dopey, rundown, redneck character is just embarrassing to watch.

And I wonder if Paul Bettany finds it ironic that, in the same year, he played an Archangel armed with a Tek-9, and the father of Evolution, Charles Darwin.

For some good laughs of the Mystery Science Theater variety, "Legion" was actually a fun movie to watch. It does suffer from its R-rating, which gave the filmmakers leave to amp up the gore and language well beyond the necessary levels, but still we enjoyed it.

That God needs to be taught a lesson by Michael is a little sticky, as far as themes go, but almost more presumptuous is that fact that "Legion" is obviously set up for a continuation. Hate to tell you, but if the world ends and no one cares, you don't get to make a sequel.

Grade: D+

"Legion" is rated R for graphic language and violence

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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