Resident Evil: Degeneration (Japan 2008)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Biohazard: Degeneration (Japan)
Review Date: 1/11/09

"Resident Evil: Degeneration" is full of surprises. First of all, the American version of the DVD was released without the original Japanese audio track. Apparently Sony must have thought that Americans are too stupid to appreciate a film in its native language, so they decided to dub it into Thai instead. Huh?!? What the hell were they thinking? The advent of DVD brought a much needed end to the heated "sub versus dub" war over ten years ago, providing a platform that ALL anime fans could embrace and enjoy. I guess no one at Sony got that little memo. In this day and age, there is simply NO reason that a Japanese movie wouldn't have a Japanese language track. This preposterous situation reminded me of Sony's classic mishandling of "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" (2005) a few years earlier, and I angrily set out to obtain the Japanese version of the film. And here's the next surprise: Having just finished watching the Japanese DVD, I'm now convinced that it was actually intended to be an English language film. How weird is that? It's almost as strange as the Japanese version of "Shenmue: The Movie" (2001) being released with an English dub and Japanese subtitles. But that's how it appears. Clue #1: English is listed as the primary audio track. Clue #2: Even though the lip syncing is pretty bad, it matches the English script more closely. Clue #3: The credits list the English voice actors and not the Japanese actors. Huh. It just boggles my mind. But that still doesn't excuse Sony for pissing off the entire target demographic by not including the Japanese audio on the domestic release. The only thing that isn't a surprise is that the Japanese audio track still sounds better than the native English one.

Whew. Now that I've got that off my chest, let's actually talk about the movie, okay? "Degeneration" serves as the long awaited reunion of the franchise's favorite couple, Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy from "Resident Evil 2" (1998). In terms of game continuity, it takes place seven years after the Raccoon City incident and shortly after the events in RE4. The Umbrella Corporation is gone, but the T-Virus lives on in the black market and a new pharmaceutical company called WilPharma is getting its hands dirty in the field of bio-terror. A zombie infection breaks out in an American airport (New Jersey?) and Raccoon City survivor Claire Redfield just happens to be there when it occurs. Lucky for her, Leon Kennedy has been called in as a special forces operative to lead a rescue mission, and the two of them are soon kicking zombie ass together again. Ada Wong is nowhere to be seen, but Leon's new love interest is a SWAT team member named Angela Miller, whose brother just happens to be a bio-terrorist of great interest. Naturally, the highly volatile G-Virus gets loose at the WilPharma lab and everything goes to hell as Claire, Leon, and Angela try to survive and escape the horrors of the facility.

For better or worse, the entire thing plays out like a giant cut-scene from one of the RE video games. It's got everything a "Resident Evil" fan could want, including bad acting, corny dialog, ridiculous melodrama, extremely worn out clichés, bizarre caricatures of American stereotypes, and odd Japanese sensibilities forced onto Western characters and settings. That said, I found it all rather lacking. The film definitely has its moments, but they're too few and way too brief. For a horror film, it spends surprisingly little time developing the suspense and horror elements, and its almost complete lack of blood and gore is disappointing. The camera also shies away from onscreen violence, making it seem like a "family friendly" version of the graphically violent source material. The production value of the film is quite good, but quite honestly, some of the cut-scenes in the video games look much better. ("Code: Veronica" (2000) immediately comes to mind) The character modeling is a bit of a sore spot, as all of the female characters look quite strange. Claire and Angela look like a bizarre amalgam of Jessica Biel and Sarah Michelle Gellar, with twig-like bodies, sharp profiles, piercing eyes, and extremely puffy lips. It attempts to be photo-realistic, but comes off as disconcerting and unattractive. I think a more stylized approach would have worked better (like the superb "Advent Children"). Leon, on the other hand, looks pretty good, apart from his exceedingly wooden posturing and complete lack of emotion. He's definitely in his bad-ass RE4 persona and not the whiny little bitch that he was in RE2, but he's still hard to take seriously. Unfortunately, Claire has become a sort of bleeding heart activist after the fall of Umbrella. She only gets one very brief action scene, but it still managed to get my heart racing and bring a tear to my eye. Overall, "Resident Evil: Degeneration" is a fun distraction for fans of the series, but it's also the fans that are likely to be the most disappointed by it.