Steve Norwood Watches Legion Fall From Grace

For the record, angels are usually portrayed on film in one of three ways:

- benevolent, gentle individuals who learn about life on Earth from the daily happenings of pleasant, middle-American folks, in the process making the less pleasant ones nicer by showing them the error of their ways

- grimly determined malcontents who will happily melt your face off or suck the life force from your body as they carry out a mission they have conveniently misinterpreted from the man upstairs

- solemn watchers who observe and report, only occasionally joining in on the fun of human life

Scott Stewart's LEGION has cemented its story firmly in that middle camp, though its dazed protagonists get an assist from a more reasonable angel in the form of Paul Bettany. Bettany's Michael proves he's our guy right from the start as he cuts off his own wings, sews up his wounds and gathers a sizeable arsenal to fend off something that likes to play JACOB'S LADDER shaky face with the local gentry.

Cut to a lonely diner out in the California wastes: very pregnant waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) and her would-be protector Jeep (Lucas Black) head into another dusty day of helping the occasional stranded driver with a meal and some repairs. But Jeep has been having horrible dreams about Charlie, and feels compelled to watch over her. Into their impossibly dull lives comes a little old lady who attracts flies, eats raw meat, and wanders around the ceiling like Spiderman after showing off her knowledge of every known four-letter word in the English language. What follows is actually far worse.

Black is a sturdy actor who is unfortunately saddled with one of the most awkward character names in film history. Every dramatic line that ends with "..., Jeep" caused much-needed but unintentional laughter. The film has little humor to begin with, and abandons the intentional kind altogether about a third of the way in. As Jeep's father, Dennis Quaid gets to bark empty threats and emptier nuggets of folksy wisdom, and his one-armed short-order cook buddy Percy, played by Charles S. Dutton, gets to start a story by saying "Once...my daddy told me...Perrrcy...".

The few-and-far-between action scenes are held in place by a lot of talk, and LEGION is unfortunately mired by some of the silliest dialogue in some time. Action stops suddenly, only to allow a string of personal moments where each character gets to wax soulful about the failures in their lives. It's enough to make you wish an army of zombie-angels would attack a diner.

After the upward trend from DAYBREAKERS to THE BOOK OF ELI, it looked like LEGION might continue the positive pattern of apocalyptic January genre flicks that exceed their expectations. But clearly ELI was the peak oil of that brief bell curve. If LEGION teaches the average filmgoer anything, it can be summed up in the following tic sheet of helpful hints for when avenging angels descend upon mankind for sketchy reasons:

- know the location of all Asian-run toy stores hiding weapons caches

- land lines will beat out cell phones and television every time

- stock up on steaks, beer and ammo

- keep a substantial amount of propane on hand

- just because he's got ice cream doesn't mean he's nice

- barricades are there for a reason

And ultimately, that's the worst offense in LEGION: God, like certain screenwriters, doesn't play by the rules. Characters that die or disappear return at opportune moments. Crowds of marauding death-dealers ready to chew on you one minute are bowed the next. God is apparently a Mamet puppet-master, playing a confidence game with his soldiers in a test of their arch-ethics. (Review by Steve Norwood - content provider for the Asian Film Festival of Dallas - AFFD)