Sunday, March 6, 2011


Freshman director Scott Stewart's high-octane apocalyptic actioneer "Legion" (*** out of ****) suffers somewhat from one contrivance after another, but this suspenseful secular saga conjures up more than enough thrills, chills and spills to keep audiences entertained with its outrageous audacity. A desolate greasy-spoon roadside diner in a sprawl of sun-baked hills in the middle of nowhere serves as the setting for an end-game showdown between mankind and its Maker. Gladiatorial archangels, demonic humans with a cannibalistic frenzy for flesh, mammoth insect swarms and other ominous symbols of Revelation appear in this old-school, souped-up, R-rated, gunfire meets fantasy smörgåsbord. The self-sacrificing Archangel Michael carves off his own wings for the occasion and opposes a dutiful Gabriel to protect an unborn child and preserve humanity from utter extinction. According to our winged wonder, God wants to grease humanity for the second time. Basically, the Supreme Being can no longer tolerate our "bullshit." Like he did to the heathen Egyptians in the Old Testament, God dispatches a legion of plagues, demons, and cannibals to polish off mankind. Non-religious audiences will crave the obstreperous battle scenes with their fusillades of gun-fire. Most of the violence staged outside against the aggressors resembles a first-person shooter video game. The adversaries hurl themselves futilely against the good guys in a hopeless frontal assault. Often, during lulls in the attacks as our appealing and clearly sympathetic characters let their guns cool off, they discuss philosophical and moral issues. Nevertheless, "Legion" illustrates the dictum that the meek shall inherit the earth. Stewart and his scenarist Peter Schink refrain from proselytizing, but their anti-abortion stance seems rather obvious.

"Legion" opens with an unmistakable homage to James Cameron's sci-fi classic "The Terminator." Archangel Michael plunges mysteriously from the night skies and lands in a dark back alley with blood on his face. He whips out a savage-looking knife, cuts off his wings, later sews the wounds shut, breaks into an armory, stocks up with an arsenal of lethal hardware, tangles with the L.A.P.D., and careens off in their cruiser. Meanwhile, the action shifts to the Paradise Falls Diner where the usual gallery of customers and employees huddle, among them the hard-bitten owner Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid of "Pandorum"), his simple-minded but conscientious mechanic son Jeep (Lucas Black of "Sling Blade"), gruff but friendly short-order cook Percy Walker (Charles S. Dutton of "Alien 3")who has one hand, an affluent couple, Sandra (Kate Walsh of "Bewitched") and Howard (Jon Tenney of "The Stepfather"), whose computerized BMW has broken down, their defiant teen daughter Audrey (Willa Holland of "Garden Party") and an enigmatic, pistol-packing African-American, Kyle Williams (Tyrese Gibson of "Death Race") who is caught up in a child custody quarrel. The most important character in "Paradise Falls" is a pretty, young waitress with the morals of an ally cat, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki of "Seven Mummies"), who has gotten herself in the family way. Ironically, she had toyed with the idea of abortion, but now only wants to hand her child off to a good family. Bob Hanson knows something about defeat. He opened a diner in the worst place in the world and hoped that a shopping mall would take root nearby. The mall took root but not nearby, so Bob's roadside restaurant Paradise Falls, (talk about theme!), never became the pot of gold that he had envisaged when he dreamed about opening it. His wife left him to raise son and Bob doesn't want Jeep to make a similar mistake with Charlie.

Unlike God, Michael has never lost his faith in mankind. He has come to defend Charlie and her unborn baby. He brings the firepower that he looted from a warehouse and arms Percy, Kyle, Charlie, and the others some pretty, heavy-duty hardware in the form of assault weapons. Initially, Michael has been assigned to slay the baby. When he confronts Gabriel, they have an argument about obedience. The obsequious Gabriel wants nothing more than to do the Lord's work, while Michael prefers to be insubordinate. Michael's argument is that God gave him a heart to love and he cannot turn his back on mankind. Michael argues that Gabriel isn't doing what a good son should do. Says Michael: "You gave Him what he asked for. I gave Him what He needed." Director Scott Stewart stages everything like a Rob Zombie showdown movie. Happily, Stewart and "Gotham Café" co-scripter Peter Schink never take themselves or the storyline seriously. The first time that we meet Bob Hanson, he is slapping around a television monitor, trying to get a decent signal. The old black & white movie that is being broadcast is the James Stewart classic "It's A Wonderful Life" and the scene where an angel, Clarence, informs Stewart that he is an angel who is trying to earn his wings. This foreshadowing of Michael and his wingless arrival is appropriately tongue-in-cheek. The first demon that enters the diner is an elderly "Golden Girl" type named Gladys Foster (Jeanette Miller of "The Truman Show") who uses a wheeled walker. The "Legion" trailer shows her warning Charlie that the waitress' baby will burn. Gladys turns demonic after acting so sweet to everybody, rips a hole in Howard's neck, scuttles across the ceiling like a human fly, and recovers after momentarily being stunned by a flying frying pan. Later, in another amusing surprise, our heroes thoughtlessly save a moppet-headed elementary school age child who turns out to have a genuine bloodlust for Charlie's newborn. Says the Minivan child with a huge steak knife in his clutches to Charlie: "Don't be afraid. I just want to play with the baby."

No, "Legion" doesn't qualify as scriptural, despite its Bible-themed message of redemption. This energetic epic not only serves as an anti-abortion tract but also as anti-cigarette propaganda. This movie reminded me of those larger-than-life Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction sagas from the 1980s. Everything about "Legion" is gloriously low-tech, even down to the hardware. When Gabriel and Michael tangle, the former wields a multi-purpose mace while the latter brandishes a shotgun. The drawback here is that neither really die because they are immortal so suspense takes a hit. The performances are uniformly excellent, and the cast maintains a straight face through this riotous nonsense. Paul Bettany excels as Michael and Kevin Durand stands out as Gabriel. Lenser John Lindley, whose credits include "The Serpent and the Rainbow," "Field of Dreams," and "Pleasantville," generates considerable tension and suspense with his darkly-lighted cinematography. The surprise ending and the changes that Jeep and Charlie experience along with the adrenalin-fueled shoot-out sequences make "Legion" into entertaining hokum.