The Book of Eli

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 19, 2010

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Boy, am I tired of these post-apocalyptic, rusted-metal futuristic slogs.

The Road For Dummies, the Hughes Brothers’ deeply unpleasant dystopia stars Denzel Washington as a machete-wielding savior of Christianity, toting the last copy of the King James Bible in his backpack, slashing his way through an gray future wasteland. Killing and eating cats on his long walk through a lot of CGI devastation, the effortlessly charming Denzel does his best to make sense of a hand-me-down role that borrows almost as much from Eastwood’s Man With No Name as it does from Will Smith’s lonely survivor inI Am Legend.

Washington finds more than he bargained for after stopping to recharge his iPod (seriously?) in a corrupt, falling-apart town lorded over by Gary Oldman’s sleazy, whoremonger saloon owner. Oldman’s performance, and his entire role for that matter, feel like extended homages to Ian McShane’s immortal Al Swearengen on HBO’s Deadwood, and perhaps the best way to pass the time during The Book of Eli is to keep tally of the countless references and rip-offs that directors Allen and Albert Hughes toss around, without ever having an original idea of their own.

There’s a lot of Mad Max going on here, and more than a few shots lifted from Children of Men. In case all the spaghetti Western flourishes weren’t obvious enough, Ray Stevenson’s malevolent henchman won’t stop whistling Ennio Morricone music cues. There’s even a shoot-out that steals its camera-trick staging from Bad Boys II.

I recall being quite impressed with the Hughes Brothers’ 1993 debut, Menace II Society, but I’ve always been afraid to give it a second look, as their subsequent output (Dead Presidents, American Pimp and From Hell) has been inane at best, and often rather offensive. In addition to being lodgy and poorly paced, The Book of Eli is gross, wallowing in rape, torture and cold-blooded murder, with Denzel hacking off limbs left and right, all to spread the word of God.

So is this some thinly veiled, futuristic critique of the Crusades? Doubtful, as the movie doesn’t have enough going on upstairs to suggest it might be a satire. Instead, Washington’s self-righteous Bible quotes (conveniently ignoring the turn-your-other cheek part, in favor of slick mayhem) feel like hypocritical justifications, making the mayhem sanctimonious for the Red State crowd.

But it’s good to find out that even after the world ends, people still listen to Al Green. D+

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