‘Legion’ fails to fly

The end of Hollywood’s version of the world, in which the scriptwriting gods regularly bequeath the unenviable task of post-apocalyptic survival to at least a couple of unlucky individuals, is usually good looking despite all the clutter. In “Legion,” an angel is thrown in to set the film’s inspirations firmly in ‘80s cult films like “The Prophecy.” Sadly for Scott Stewart’s debut, the film takes itself too seriously for its campy roots, and is structured too stupidly to qualify as anything else.

Michael is a volunteer angel who falls from grace to protect the yet unborn savior of humanity against God’s “undo” button. After a ridiculously cool bullet-ridden opening, in which the biblical creature somehow requires human weapons to blast away demonic baddies, the movie settles into B-horror clichés like a thirsty alcoholic into mouthwash. A middle-of-nowhere destination acting as the “Rapturous Alamo” of humanity? Check (and it’s a diner this time!). An ensemble cast consisting of a motley mesh of gender and racial stereotypes? Check. Sporadic battles with seemingly innocent people/things that turn out to be evil? Check. Poorly paced build-up to a climactic final battle? Check.

Paul Bettany takes a giant career step back as Michael, a creature played too stone-faced to be amiable or interesting. First-timer Adrianne Palicki plays mother-of-savior Charlie, and clings to every possible interpretation of the word “plucky” until even she doesn’t seem to believe herself. The rest of the gang-of-survivors are rounded out by equally caricatured and phoned-in performances by the likes of Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Charles S. Dutton and Dennis Quaid. A rare glimmer of effort can occasionally be seen sneaking into a line or two throughout the film’s runtime, but there is little to keep us rooting for these people after the film’s first act.

What distinguishes “Legion” from other such films like “Zombieland” is that this film never wholly embraces the enjoyable schlock that came before it. A demonic granny that roars and crab-walks on walls is portrayed not with a wink or a “groovy,” but almost completely seriously. No creative uses of its low budget are apparent; the financial gap between it and other A-list productions is emphasized only with snags in special effects and cheap design work. Some battles, again mostly contained within the film’s opening, showcase some thinking outside the visual effects box, and the creature designs manage to remain front and center as the film’s sole consistent talent.

While the film sets an expected low bar for visuals, the compilation soundtrack manages to round out the film’s action and various locations, the orchestral side usually content to muddy about the generic epic-jolting rhythms we’ve come to play in the background of trailers in our sleep. While most of the film deserves to be stranded in theme limbo, there exists a certain apprehensive quality to the cinematic, excellent camera work and shot framing popping up awkwardly enough to suggest a possible greatness that was buried by the rest of the film.

“Legion” is a confused little film. Taking a badly copied cliffs notes version of biblical lore (wasn’t Lucifer also a head-strong angel that rebelled against God?) and stir-frying into a failed patchwork of Sam Raimi and Francis Lawrence (“Constantine,” “I am Legend”). There are no enjoyable acting results, and beyond the above average prologue, the film toes so many archetypal lines that it fails to develop its own identity. The sparks of unanticipated cinematographic talent aren’t worth the microwaved action and throw away script that’s on display for 9/10ths of the screen time. If the world’s truly going to end Hollywood-style, we’d be better off with the “Mad Max” kind.