THE BOOK OF ELI (Dirs. Albert and Allen Hughes, 2010)
Here we go again with another cinematic rendering of a post apocalyptic world - apparently for those who thought THE ROAD didn't have enough action.
A bearded grizzled Denzel Washington walks the ashy terrain listening to Al Green on an old beat-up iPod and avoiding Road Warrior-ish highjackers hiding in the rubble.
When he is confronted by a crusty crew of them, we see that he is a machete-brandishing bad ass who leaves his attackers in a pile of their own limbs; SAMURAI ASSASSIN-style.
We only get a few hints as to what happened to the Earth. Washington mentions "the wars", "the flash" and at one point says "the sky opened up, the sun came down" so obviously they want to keep it vague. I can go along with that fine, but after hearing that it's been 30 winters since this all went down I couldn't get over wondering how he recharges that iPod battery.
On his journey west (post apocalyptic folk are always traveling to the Californian coast) Washington comes upon the supposed king of the crud covered thugs - an oily Gary Oldman (one of the only lively elements present) who chews the sleazy scenery as he seeks "the Book". The book is, of course, the Bible (The King James Version) and Washington has the last copy on his person and he ain't sharing it. He'll quote from it to Mila Kunis as one of Oldman's slaves, but he will not give it up to anybody.
Suffice to say this causes some friction. Friction in the form of gun battles with heavy artillery and yep, big explosions. Washington is determined and seemingly indestructible in his efforts to protect "the Book", but his real strengths as an actor are buried here.
Though Washington is one of the executive producers on this project, his role as the stoical Eli is stiff and passionless. He's one of the finest actors working today, but here his charisma is literally missing in action.
Despite this the movie itself should've gone for more mindless spectacle instead of the religious pretension it tries to pull off. Its hokey thematics bring to mind another post apocalyptic anomaly - THE POSTMAN. In Kevin Costner's notorious 1997 flop, a drifter finds a mailbag and sets about delivering the letters inside which in turn helps to rebuild society.
The Bible in THE BOOK OF ELI fulfills the same purpose - it's a glorified MacGuffin, but unlike most MacGuffins, it's importance grows in the last third of the film. Washington and the Hughes Brothers are reaching here to tell the story of a righteous prophet, and there are a few times where its sepia-tinted tones are appealing, but mostly the underwritten yet overdone enterprise loudly falls flat.
As a beginning of the year B-movie THE BOOK OF ELI is sure to make major bank from movie-goers looking for diversion. But stone cold boredom is what they're really going to get.