'Book of Eli' is poorly written

Article Published: Jan. 21, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Book of Eli' is poorly written

"I love coming to the door armed - scares the pizza guy half to death." Mila Kunis and Denzel Washington star in 'The Book of Eli.'

At least there weren't any zombies.

In a time when the undead and their post-apocalyptic counterparts dominate the sci-fi/horror viewscape, it's refreshing to see a thought-provoking, character-driven film about the enduring human spirit set in an eerily realistic post-apocalyptic landscape.

That film is The Road, a limited-release gem from director John Hillcoat, based on the acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy.

The Book of Eli, not so much. Despite striking visuals, an effective sun-parched color scheme and two brilliant lead actors, Eli's lackluster screenplay makes it a forgettable chapter in cinema's post-apocalyptic tome.

It's the future, some 30 years after the last war, and Eli (Denzel Washington, Training Day) travels the American wasteland, fending off highway robbers, cannibals and all else the dismal setting can throw at him. Armed to the teeth, Eli carries what's alleged to be the world's last King James Bible, all others having been destroyed in decades past to quell its message of hope.

While some would seek it for the good of mankind, to perpetuate that message, others would use it to control the message for their own personal gain and power. Carnegie (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight) belongs to the latter. The despot of a ramshackle settlement out west, Carnegie has been seeking a copy for as long as he'd care to remember, dispatching motorcycle gangs of thugs and killers - illiterate thugs and killers, at that - to gather any books they encounter, most of the time murdering their owners.

When Eli arrives, Carnegie learns of his prized possession and becomes hell-bent on obtaining it, despite Eli's repeated demonstrations of grisly self-defense. With Carnegie's ill-treated stepdaughter (Mila Kunis, TV's Family Guy) in tote, Eli leaves town and continues west to deliver his book to those worthy of reading it.

Naturally, Carnegie pursues, and chaos ensues.

Stylishly directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (Dead Presidents, From Hell) and presented as a post-apocalyptic western, Eli suffers from its own script, screenwriter Gary Whitta's debut effort. With often clumsy dialogue and a self-righteous tone throughout, the film plays like a cross between The Road Warrior and The Passion of the Christ, brutally violent, heavy handed and smelling of Mel Gibson.

Washington and Oldman deliver subdued performances for these over-the-top, yet two-dimensional, characters, but even Oldman's signature villainous glee seems missing from this one. Kunis seems out of place in her role, which, unfortunately, comes with some of Eli's worst dialogue, lines that make you want to don your best Peter Griffin voice and say, "Shut up, Meg."

Eli does sport an enjoyable cameo, however. Crooner Tom Waits has a small role as a storekeeper in Carnegie's town, stealing those scenes with his affable weirdness and, curiously enough, seeming to fit comfortably in that setting.

The setting, in this case, is the film's strength. The Hughes Brothers have created, essentially, a post-apocalyptic Wild West frontier, replacing tumbleweeds with litter, rock formations with abandoned beltways, cacti with skeletons, and bandits with, well, cannibalistic bandits. Though nowhere as eerie as The Road's environment, the Hughes' bright, parched landscape is surprisingly effective, as are the little details, such as a salvaged iPod, which serves as Eli's only link to a previous life.

But story is pushed to the wayside in lieu of mindless action that could be found in any standard shoot and/or slice 'em up movie. This leaves plenty of room for plot holes, which grow substantially after a rather trite twist toward the end, with the Hughes Brothers obviously setting up for a sequel - a book that should remain on the shelf.

The Book of Eli, rated R for some brutal violence and language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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