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Add a new threat to the biblical plague checklist: Legion. In the beginning, this film’s script was about a diner full of folks who come under siege by demons. Over time, said script would experience a divine metamorphosis. Gone were the demons, angels were introduced and a plot involving God’s wrath was worked in to explain why heaven’s soldiers were flooding the earth with such fury. A unique spin on the siege scenario (even if it does sound like a reverse Demon Knight) genre fans have seen time and time again since Romero trapped a bunch of folks in a farmhouse and assaulted them with the living dead, but in the hands of Scott Stewart Legion clunky, laughable and clichÃ©d mess.
Somewhere in Los Angeles, the archangel Michael (a one-note Bettany) smashes into an alley only to cut off his wings; an act that prompts his Running Man-esque metal collar (or “halo”) to snap off. He arms himself to the teeth, dons a cool trench coat, blows away a Danny Huston/Vincent Dâ€˜Onofrio hybrid, steals a squad car and peels out of town towards the desert where “now leaving subtlety” is on the roadside ahead. You see, way out here in the dry environs between L.A. and Las Vegas is a diner called Paradise Falls. (See? Subtle.) It’s a greasy spoon where the one-handed cook is servin’ up eggs with a side of faith – he’s played with the usual gusto by Charles Dutton, channeling his “Charles Dutton from Alien 3.” The owner is a cantankerous fella (Quaid, who’s career continues down a cartoonish path, especially after G.I. Joe), and he knows just how to make the television work with a smack of his hand. (What’s the boob tube playing? It’s a Wonderful Life, of course.) And the waitress Charlie (Palicki) is preggers, yet no one knows who the father is.
Stewart rounds out his Paradise Falls lot with some city folk, a dude en route to see his kid (Gibson), and Quaid’s son (Black), who pines for Charlie with forlorn puppy dog looks that grow wearisome. He might be cute, ladies, but something tells us he’s not all that smart. The dynamic of this group is shattered when a grinning old woman enters and turns into a shark-toothed, wall-crawling geriatric critter. Her death precedes the arrival of Michael with his guns, leering looks and not so commanding presence which doesn’t seem to work on us. It easily convinces the locals, however, to barricade themselves in the diner and await the hordes of angel-possessed mortals. These poor souls arrive in various forms like the Stretch Armstrong ice cream man (the always welcome Doug Jones), little kids and a van of punk rockers – then again, were they possessed? Because they acted just like, well, punk rockers.
During her downtime inside the walls of Paradise Falls, Charlie is informed her baby needs to be protected so it can save mankind from whatever devious plan God has cooked up to wipe everyone out. Michael and the Big Guy didn’t exactly see eye to eye on matters so the former bailed out of Fort Heaven (oh, and believe me, we do get a glimpse of Heaven) to defend Charlie and her offspring. That’s the gist.
With so many potentially decent ideas in place, the problem with Legion is that Stewart doesn’t know how to execute his scenes of drama. The story is rife with monologues; everyone gets their share and they’re heavy-handed, meandering, pace-killing yarns that offer a modicum of insight into each character but are not particularly interesting. Furthermore, any speech that begins with Gibson saying, “When I was a shorty…” immediately throws me into fits of laughter. Each character is a broad, stale stereotype and the one person who does work – Kevin Durand as the bad-ass angel Gabriel – isn’t used enough.
Legion is an arduous climb uphill rife with Terminator nods, sporadic shots of Bettany firing away with a gun or two, familiar siege genre beats (being fooled into stepping outside the safety zone to save a loved one), more Terminator nods, a slight lift from Jeepers Creepers 2‘s finale (which is funny since Stewart’s FX company worked on that sequel) and one hell of a resilient infant. Stewart’s competent in the action and creature department and there’s a nifty angel versus angel throwdown (their wings have various uses) but for a film that was pushed a year, there was nothing here FX or set piece-wise that seemed to warrant that kind of delay for more tinkering. Awestruck, I was not. At its core, Legion is an interesting premise yet the script drops the ball in a cataclysmic way. I’m not a religious man, but by the end of this groaner I was weeping, “Heaven, help me.”