If Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Resident Evil had a particularly unfortunate direct to video love child it might look something like The Mutant Chronicles, a movie which shares the aesthetic of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and the script of Resident Evil for a turgid combination of atmospheric 1920’s war movie melodrama and zombie attacks. There are no shortage of bad movies that are made all the time, but The Mutant Chronicles is not a bad movie, instead it’s a misguided one that has the elements of a much better movie within it, but manages to squander them time and time again.
The Mutant Chronicles miscasts Ron Perlman as the leader of a monastic order given to delivering long speeches on faith he can hardly pronounce and then squanders John Malkovich on a brief scene in a corporate tower. It displays the striking if unreal cinematography and green screen effects of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to mimic an early 20’s and 30’s world with some steampunk touches, but like Sky Captain itself, never manages to make the world itself come to life or to make the characters who inhabit it matter. The worst failing of The Mutant Chronicles is in its script, a misguided mess from the writer of Event Horizon, that alternates between obscenities and lectures on faith.
With the slow pacing of an ambitious epic, The Mutant Chronicles takes 40 minutes before the “Dirty Dozen” set off on their mission to blow up the alien machine. An event that is preceded by sonorous and unnecessary voiceovers from Ron Perlman that set forth a completely mangled history involving the devil, an alien spaceship and a secret order of monks who keep its secret; after which we’re told that it’s the year 2700 something, corporations rule the world and are currently fighting WW1 Doughboy style somewhere around France. Naturally they wake the evil machine which begins to turn the entire world into zombies.
It’s not too clear why the combined resources of the world’s armies prove to be no match for the zombies whose only mode of attack are their clawed arms and who need to tow away the dead and the living back to their machine to turn them into zombies. The actual mission which depends on attaching a device that might be a bomb which has to be detonated with a key they don’t actually have is an even worse idea. But none of that stops Thomas Jane’s Hunter or the rest of the cast of disposable characters from going on the mission in exchange for evacuation passes for someone they care about, the only worthwhile element in the script. This commences an hour or so of playing hide and seek with the zombies through the art deco ruins of a lost city, itself a good deal scarier than the zombies.
There are moments in The Mutant Chronicles that actually work. Hunter breaking up the evacuation blackmailers. Malkovich’s Constantine calmly asking the mob of zombies if they have a name. The characters trading quips and revelations over their passes in the compartment. But most of it is simply a waste of time. Too slowly paced to work as an action movie and too devoid of content to be anything else, The Mutant Chronicles is both too dumb and too pretentious for its own good. Like many Hollywood movies, The Mutant Chronicles mistakes empty platitudes about faith for depth and tosses aside even this faint attempt at depth when its ending depicts the act of faith that instead of exploding the enemy ship, instead directs it to Mars against the remaining survivors of the human race. The Martian Chronicles clearly means to carve out a suspenseful moment for a sequel, but instead it tops its own absurdity into complete irrelevance.