Movies about small groups of people threatened by some malevolent force in a confined area are commonplace. They can be set in space (“Alien”) or on sea (“Jaws”) but are usually done on old terra firma (“Night of the Living Dead”) to save expense. Stephen King has used the cliché well (“The Mist”) and badly (“Maximum Overdrive”), and Project Greenlight showed that it was perfect for extremely low-budget horror projects (“Feast”). But rarely has the plot been used so idiotically as in “Legion.”
The locale is, as in “Overdrive” and “Feast,” an isolated diner/truck stop. But the attacking force isn’t a bunch of ferocious extraterrestrials or machines gone wild. It’s, incredibly, God’s army of angels who have been sent to earth to possess people and use them as vessels to wipe out the human race.
Yep, this is another in the recent spate of pictures (see “The Book of Eli”) that wrap their tired old action stories in a wacky religious framework. The premise of the script is that God has tired of human misconduct and has decided to wipe out the disappointing species. This time, though, he’s going to employ weak-minded people taken over by his angels, who apparently prove hungry when embodied in this way.
But there’s a special case that requires the personal attention of Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany): killing the unborn child of unmarried waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) who works in the diner on the edge of the Mojave Desert called Paradise Falls (doesn’t it, though?). But Michael rebels and comes to earth to protect the kid, who he knows is destined to lead humanity back to the right way. He arms the diner’s other patrons: dissipated owner Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid) and his son Jeep (Lucas Black), who loves Charlie; passerby Kyle (Tyrese Gibson), who’s on his way to see his son; Bible-spouting cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton); and yuppie couple Howard (Jon Tenney) and Sandra (Kate Walsh), along with their rebellious daughter Audrey (Willa Holland). Together they must fend off mobs of murderous angel-possessed folk, the first being ravenous old lady Gladys (Jeanette Foster), getting picked off one by one until the Archangel Gabriel himself (Kevin Durand) arrives in full winged regalia to do battle with Michael and finish the job.
The purely action-oriented mayhem is done well enough, in the ultra-violent zombie-influenced style of the day, even if the CGI effects are pretty unspectacular and the cinematography of John Lindley keeps most everything in dank shadow. And one could dismiss it as typical DVD-destined tripe if it weren’t for the crass use of religion.
Simply put, this is the goofiest plundering of the Bible since Christopher Walken’s “Prophecy” pictures of the 1990s. It’s hard to believe that any serious Christian could stomach the idea of a second messiah (or is it the first?), being born—as the first title card informs us—on December 25, or of a wrathful deity who uses tidal waves of possessed bodies, rather than Noah’s flood, to destroy humanity? There is some benefit, to be sure—though of the risible sort—in watching two guys with wings and what appears to be medieval knight’s garb thrashing at one another with swords and maces (as well as martial arts moves) in the closing hand-to-hand combat. But overall it’s a combination of horror movie cliché and pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo that proves a pretty fetid brew.
And pity the poor cast. How do talented young British actors—like Michael Sheen in the “Underworld” series and now Bettany in this—allow themselves to get stuck in such rubbish? Whatever the answer, Bettany’s dully stoic turn may earn him a check but certainly no respect. None of the others retain their dignity either—not Quaid with his world-weary redneck shtick, nor Black with his awful yokel accent, nor Dutton with his stentorian pronouncements, nor Walsh with her teary-mother weeping. But certainly the funniest is Durand, who must try to remain straight-faced in his Gabriel garb and nearly succeeds.
It takes no great gift of prophecy to say that there won’t be any legions of viewers trooping out to see this piece of brainless, gloomy nonsense. But it will probably spawn a direct-to-DVD sequel anyway. Heaven help us.