If George W. Bush has left one legacy to the arts, it's that under his administration more films about the Apocalypse and ecological destruction went into production than under any other presidency.
The latest to be released is the Hughes Brothers' The Book of Eli. Consider this tepid offering "Cormac McCarthy Lite."
Like McCarthy's Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Road (and its recent first-rate screen adaptation), The Book of Eli takes place after civilization's been decimated.
Of the few survivors, a huge percentage have become rapists and cannibals. What's worse is that these remnants of mankind are also smelly. Apparently without access to commercials for Colgate and Dial soap, hygiene has gone the way of the dodo.
Additionally, both offerings share a religious core. In The Road, a father is trying to get his son, a possible Christ figure, to a warmer environment. In The Book of Eli, the taciturn Christ figure with a mission, Eli (Denzel Washington), is trying to transport the last surviving copy of the Bible to what's left of San Francisco.
Hey, what happened to all the other copies? Glad you asked. All the millions upon millions of Bibles that have been published throughout the ages have been destroyed, apparently because these tomes have been blamed for the rack and ruin of humanity. The Lord's Prayer has been judged calamitous.
Well, with that premise and an opening slower-paced than molasses in January, we get to see Eli kill a hairless cat with an arrow for dinner; ambulate past hundreds of skeleton-filled, burnt-out autos; and then finally clean his genitals with a KFC towelette, which brings up the question: Who at KFC approved this product placement? Now every time we pass one of these fast-food eateries, we're going to think of reeking testicles. That's an appetite whetter.
Anyway, a very nasty man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) wants to get his hands on Eli's Bible so he can use the Word to rule a dystopia of his own making. Uh-oh!
Poor Carnegie! He doesn't realize that Eli is a soldier of God, who with his mean sword and a few bullets, can wipe out armies of meanies. If you don't believe me, just you watch Eli cut off a hand or disjoint a head or shoot someone in the crotch.
Along for the blood-soaked ride is a pair of very bad actresses: Jennifer Beals as Carnegie's blind mistress and Mila Kunis as her bartending daughter. If two performances ever could cause you to question the existence of God, these would be the two.
Yet with stunning cinematography by Don Burgess (Forrest Gump), breathtaking production design by Gae Buckley (He's Just Not That Into You), and state-of-the-art visual effects by Jon Farhat (The Mask), you at times almost forget how humorless, repugnant, and unnecessary this whole product is.
Only near the finale, with the appearance of two top-notch thespians, Michael Gambon and Frances De la Tour, as George and Martha, aging, lovable, man-eating survivalists, does the film really come alive in a totally enjoyable manner.
This is, however, a case of "too little, too late" unless quickly edited dismemberment, misogyny, and commercialized spirituality, all enacted to an annoying score composed by Atticus Ross, is your cup of tea. If so, drink up. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's forthcoming documentary New York Memories. In the spring, he'll be teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).