Who’s In It: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals, Ray Stevenson, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits
The Basics: The year is 2043. Thirty years ago, religious wars turned the world into a desert wasteland (which pegs the apocalypse somewhere around 2012, keeping with the Roland Emmerich School of Thought) so everything looks gray and burnt out (and gorgeous, thanks to Don Burgess's cinematography) but soap is as scarce as literacy, which will narrow your dating options even further. As the remnants of society turn to cannibalism, lawlessness, and bartering precious resources like water and Chapstick to survive, a lone warrior named Eli (Denzel Washington) Mad Maxes his way through post-nuclear America on a mission to deliver a Very Special Book: the last-known copy of The Bible, which he reads every night and knows by heart. But when Eli reaches what used to be Los Angeles, a few obstacles stand in his way: namely, a corrupt “sheriff” (Gary Oldman) who has his eye on The Book, and a desperate young woman (Mila Kunis) bent on joining Eli on his quest to ask a bunch of annoying questions like, “Can you teach me how to read?” (His answer: no.)
What’s The Deal: As far as establishing something new in the crowded realm of post-apocalyptic science fiction goes, co-directors Albert and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, From Hell) have created a visually stunning neo-Wild West with plenty of sly visual nods to our current culture of consumerism. But after moving things along with energetic chop ‘em up fight scenes to establish that 55-year-old Denzel is a lean, mean, jugular-slicing machine (as well as a gentleman and a poet), The Book of Eli takes a jarring turn into Sunday school territory with a heavy-handed message about faith. A few strange plot turns later, Denzel’s hanging out in a caftan with Malcolm MacDowell, who’s rocking one of the worst crazy man hairdos in movie history, and you wonder when the movie stopped being a kick-ass, futuristic Western and turned into a weird, R-rated, Christian message movie.
God Is Merciful And All That, But You’re Still Not Getting Your Arm Back: Eli is your textbook cowboy hero in the samurai-of-the-West sense, but he’s also a warrior-monk who quotes Scripture before eviscerating his foes with short swords, crossbows, and shotguns. The Hughes brothers film carnage with an inventive eye for the action, capturing Washington’s silhouetted figure Zatoichi-ing his way through a throng of road bandits and moving the camera supernaturally through walls as Oldman & Co. lay siege to a house where Eli and his cohorts are hiding out.
Where You’ve Seen Gary Oldman Do This Before: Even though he’s played a bajillion kooky villains over the years, Gary Oldman is still captivating to watch. The man gives it 110 percent: at one point he makes the bags under his eyes twitch, AND WHO CAN DO THAT? So forgive him the déjà vu moment when he opens something only to discover someone’s pulled the old switcheroo and plays it like the time he made it back to the space ship in The Fifth Element only to find the stones weren’t in the case.
Why You Should Be Scared Of The Future: By 2043, the only remaining literature in the world will be The Da Vinci Code and an issue of O, the Oprah magazine. What about the internet, you ask? Forget it. It's gone. (Yay, print media?) Commit this and my other reviews to memory now (along with those of my excellent fellow critic, Dave White) before it’s too late, and invest in an old-timey printing press. Trust me on this. Oh, also in the future, Dumbledore eats people and tiny Mila Kunis will be the only strong woman around. At least when the world ends, we’ll all have cool sunglasses.