Movie News & Reviews

Implausibility tarnishes 'Book of Eli'

Top three skills in the postapocalyptic world: 1) bulletmaking, 2)sword- and/or stick-fighting, 3) sauce cooking.

Look, a petty tyrant can find any number of rough dudes dressed inspikes and old tires to enforce his cruel whims. Being able to makegravy, dressing or curry out of common herbs and vegetables? That'sgoing to look mighty priceless once we run out of canned stuff andit's leaf and beetle stew for the third time this week. If you're asaucier in that world, you'll be calling shots like Babe Ruth.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

With that in mind, I'd like to make any would-be rulers of WastelandAmerica aware that I know the difference between cilantro andcoriander. (Ha! Trick statement: there isn't one.) Just keepthat in mind as you're brushing up on your dictatorial skills withmovies such as The Book of Eli.

Thirty years after the war that drenched the earth in solar radiationand killed almost everyone, Denzel Washington makes his way west,eating cats to survive, scavenging what little there is to find.

On a stop for water in a town of barbarians, his studly killing powerscatch the eye of local ruler Gary Oldman. Oldman soon learnsWashington's got something he desperately wants — the world's last copyof the Bible, the book Oldman wants to use to establish and control anew empire. And he'll do anything to get it.

In the face of post-apocalypse movies, I'm as helpless as a lonetraveler trapped by a gang of filthy cannibals. Even when, like inThe Book of Eli, they're more or less The Road squashedup with Left Behind and Mad Max (you know what, I herebyswear to never compare an apocalypse movie to Mad Max again;it's like saying a zombie movie owes something to Night of theLiving Dead) — even then, I'm going to have a good time.

Yet some times are gooder than others. The Book of Eli startsoff promising goodness: a lone man doing what he needs to survive,showing signs of cracking, but keeping himself together with smallrituals. It isn't new, but it is engrossing.

Then, when Washington's confronted by bad, bad men, he chop sueys themup in a well-choreographed scene of ultraviolence. Ooh! Where'd helearn to fight like that? Where'd he get that rocking sword? Just whois this man of mystery, and what is his quest?

It turns out he's the world's deadliest K-Mart employee (apparentlybefore the collapse of society, the price wars with Target andWalmart got especially deadly), and he's on a mission to take thatlast surviving Bible...somewhere. And he's a devout Christian whoslices off hands, guts people and shotguns them into the muck.

It's all in self-defense, but it's a strange interpretation fromfirst-time screenwriter Gary Whitta. It kind of feels like wanting tohave your cake (faith can be valuable, especially in a lawless land ofcannibalism, rape and murder) and eat it, too (violence is fun).

Smartly, however, it never gets too heavy-handed with all that. Nordoes it shy away from the grim realities of its future. But almostnothing in its peripherals makes sense — where did he learn tofight like that? How could every copy of the mostwidely printed book of all time be found and burned? Why does eatinghuman flesh make people crazy? — and all those details, lightweight ontheir own, add up to a crushing lack of attention to detail. Mildbummer when The Book of Eli is otherwise an interesting ifimperfect shot at a genre I love.

Grade: C+