I’m giving this thing two-and-a-half stars — about one-and-a-half more than anyone else has given it — based entirely on the fact that I had a good time watching it … probably for all the wrong reasons. I do not think that writer-director Kurt Wimmer meant for the audience response to Ultraviolet to consist of laughter and shouting rude things at the screen. That, however, is the only response I can imagine.
Though undeniably ambitious, in terms of both style and wildly overstated allegory, I can’t conceive of calling Ultraviolet a good movie in any reasonable sense of the term. Overall, it’s a film that can best be thought of as the work of a more cerebral Uwe Boll.
It’s abundantly obvious that Wimmer’s movie has something on its mind. Set in a future where a certain faction of the citizenry has been infected with the HGV virus (passed by human bodily fluids), the movie envisions a world where the infected have been “quarantined” into camps or simply made to disappear. The government has become a tyrannical theocracy (the incorporation of the sign of the cross into the architecture of this world is nothing if not unsubtle) lorded over by Arch Cardinal Daxus (Nick Chinlund, The Legend of Zorro), who justifies his continued power by manufacturing new threats to the populace to keep them good and scared.
Yes, it sounds interesting, and as an idea it is — in the overstated manner of a slogan-riddled Soviet propaganda film from the 1920s. It’s like Eisenstein by way of Marvel Comics.
But Wimmer kills off most of the interest by having no clue how to develop the theme, as evidenced in the film’s opening narration when Ultaviolet (Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil) informs us, “I was born into a world you might not understand,” a statement completely at odds with the movie’s allegorical underpinnings. If this doesn’t do the idea in, leave it to Wimmer’s inability to write dialogue in anything other than a combination of perfunctory comic-book basic and bumper-stickerese (at one point there’s a dialogue exchange that comes within a word of being, “It’s a child, not a choice”) — especially when combined with jaw-droppingly cheesy CGI effects.
Wimmer might argue that the flat, cartoonish effects work is meant to evoke the world of comic books — as is the post-production smoothing out of everyone’s face into something like a disconcerting latex mask. And that may even be true, but it doesn’t keep Ultraviolet from being unintentionally funny.
The plot, such as it is, has the Hemophages fighting against the government. The Hemophages are the victims of HGV virus, which, by the way — and not that it seems to matter much — turns the infected into vampires who, oddly, never bite anyone (despite their prosthetic canines). Their chief tool is, of course, Ultraviolet, whom they’ve sent to snatch the government’s latest secret weapon against them.
This turns out to be what looks for all the world like a giant maxi-pad; in reality, it’s a kind of attache-case-sized carry-on bag. Although she’s under strict orders not to look inside the maxi-pad … er, case (shades of Kiss Me Deadly and Pulp Fiction), Ultraviolet takes a peek and unleashes its contents. Inside is an entire 10-year-old boy named Six (Cameron Bright, Running Scared), who, rather like “those eight big tomatoes” that the Contadina people stuff into that “little bitty can,” has somehow been rudely shoved into this confined space.
Having let this diminutive Prince Albert out of his can, Ultraviolet finds herself a fugitive from both the humans and the Hemophages (this is how Wimmer’s film qualifies — per his claims — as an homage to John Cassevettes’ Gloria). Theoretically, this is supposed to result in a moving story about her relationship with the boy, who becomes the surrogate for the child she lost when she contracted the virus. That’s the theory. The reality is a little different, since neither character is sufficiently appealing to care much about.
And anyway, the movie’s real raison d’etre is to have Jovovich kill a lot of people with martial arts, swordplay and futuristic guns that look like heavy-duty staplers. The problem — apart from the believability of any of these scenes and the bloodlessness of the PG-13 rating — is that Wimmer manages to restage the exact same scene 15 or so times. They all work on the premise of a bunch of assailants encircling Ultraviolet and attacking; the inherent flaw in this approach (which the villains never learn) is that they tend to shoot or stab or otherwise injure their own comrades since they’re standing across from each other! Of course, since some of them appear to be made out of glass (well, they shatter when they’re hit), intellect may not be their strong suit.
The only variation to this is the Big Showdown with the Arch Cardinal, which is staged in the dark with flaming swords — an effect that looks alarmingly like a floorshow at a Hawaiian restaurant. Divinely silly? Oh, yes. A good action film? Oh, dear me, no. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violent action throughout, partial nudity and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke