A movie like Legion really doesn’t have to do a lot to earn a passing grade from me. As long as the movie avoids really obvious mistakes, I’ll walk away happy. Unfortunately, movies like this don’t often avoid the obvious mistakes. In fact, the only reason these mistakes have become so obvious is that we’ve seen them made in so many movies. For some reason, even though the bar is set ridiculously low, this type of movie almost always disappoints. Legion is no exception.
Here’s what I wanted:
1) No actors who are so bad they’re distracting. Mediocre, or even pretty bad actors are fine, but a movie like Legion must avoid the total embarrassments.
2) A reasonably cool look that doesn’t rely too heavily on cheap CGI tricks.
3) Avoidance of lame, b-movie cliches.
4) A decent explanation for the events taking place. In this case, an attack of killer angels in human bodies.
We’ll start with the acting. Obviously there were no Oscar performances here, but Paul Bettany was adequate as the archangel Michael. I was hoping for a few lovable character actors to make appearances, so when one of the first scenes featured Denny Quaid* and Charles S. Dutton, I thought I was sittin’ pretty. Then Tyrese showed up. Thats when I knew I was in trouble. Tyrese has never been in a decent movie, and he never will be. “Tyrese”, and “good movie” are mutually exclusive. Memo to directors, casting agents, et al: if you ever find yourself thinking, “You know who would be great in this movie? Tyrese!”, then you’re making a bad movie. I don’t care how much you think you need a perpetually scowling face.
*Quaid used to be a leading man, but obviously things have changed. He’s a role player now. Don’t feel bad for him. He still looks great and he’s still getting work. An actor in his 50s could do a lot worse. I bet Quaid is a cool guy, too. He’s gotta be.
Unfortunately, Tyrese is not the worst actor in this movie. That honor is held by Lucas Black*, who plays a slow-witted mechanic named Jeep. That’s right, his name is Jeep. Its not short for anything either, as far as I can tell. Nor are we ever led to believe it could be a nickname. And did I mention he’s the main character? Yeah, he is. It’s painful. His character’s simple naivete (he’s retarded!) is conveyed by a furrowed brow and confused wag of his head. He does this before and after he says anything. No exaggeration, it was one of the worst acting performances I’ve ever seen.
*I just went to Black’s IMDB page. I was shocked to discover this guy has been in a lot of movies. I felt sure Legion was his first major role.
The truth is Legion failed to meet any of the modest standards I set. I never found myself thinking any scene looked remotely interesting. The monsters weren’t scary, the set (singular) wasn’t impressive in any way and the CGI was cartoonish. The demon ice cream man was maybe the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m sure there are people out there who thought this movie looked cool. I’m also sure those people are too young to view the movie legally.
Cliches? Where do I start? Well, first of all, the male and female leads live and everyone else dies. This is the cliche that should be most obvious, and therefore easiest to avoid, yet is mindlessly embraced by all films in this genre. Let’s see, what else….we got the middle of nowhere setting, we got the demons taking over human bodies (their faces shake!), we got the good guys hunkering down in a building trying to survive the night, we got the character who goes crazy and almost gets them all killed, we got the irreverent teen, we got unconvincing catharsis all over the place, the list goes on and on. What can I say, bad movies like to borrow from other bad movies. Legion plays like a poor man’s The Prophecy.
Miserable failures on criteria 1, 2 and 3 notwithstanding, tt was Legion’s failure to meet my 4th criteria that really disappointed me. A plot like this could have been cool with the right back-story. Instead we get a few statements about God being angry with humanity and a half-assed, 30 second flashback of Bettany and fellow angel Gabriel discussing the situation, presumably in heaven. I found that laziness appalling. Why should we care about a movie’s plot when the filmmaker doesn’t even bother to put it in context? A good story, one that the storyteller actually cares about, has a history. It has a world in which it exists. Legion, and movies of its ilk, always fall laughably short in this regard. The explanation is simple: they don’t care about their story. When I’m watching a movie and I figure that out, its curtains. I’ll continue to sit in the theater and look at the screen, but my brain will be elsewhere. It knows when its not needed.
The only thing that saved Legion from being a complete disaster was the aforementioned decent acting from Bettany, Quaid and Dutton. There was one scene where Dutton was on the roof talking to Tyrese and my inner monologue was like, “Tyrese, I hope you’re takin’ notes.” I doubt he was.
next week: From Paris With love