LEGION is an incoherent flick positing, amid all the apocalyptic mayhem, that the Almighty is out of touch with His/Her inner Deity. It may be a juicy mystery that passeth all understanding to make theologians quiver with the delight of unraveling it, but as a premise for a movie, it’s incoherent. That it also attempts to conflate Divine Will with the Sarah Connor Chronicles is merely disturbing.
Paul Bettany is the sad-eyed angel Michael, who knows God’s mind better than God does, yet has an iffy sense of direction. When he tumbles from heaven to earth one rainy December night, he’s a hundred miles or so from his target. That would be Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), the unwed mother-to-be whose baby is, of course, the key to humankind’s salvation. It does give Michael the opportunity, though, of having a run-in with the LAPD, and to swipe an arsenal and a squad car to drive the last leg of his journey. Cinematically, arriving in a cloud of dust with a trunk full of guns, bazookas, and other assorted weapons of small destruction is cool. Cool, it seems, outweighs clever in Heaven.
The cloud of dust pulls up at Paradise Falls, a lonely diner/gas station/garage situated in the middle of a particularly desolate nowhere in the Mojave Desert. It and Michael discover the end of the world in progress in the form of a communications blackout and a little old lady with bad manners and a gift for crawling on the ceiling. It doesn’t take long for Michael to convince Charlie and the others that something more than just a breakdown of the social order is in progress, and when he identifies angels, not demons, as the source of the destruction, they don’t bat a collective eye. Or an individual one either. The religious, one-handed cook, played with sincerity by Charles S. Dutton, merely registers surprise that he’s lived long enough to see the end of times. The others settle into a defensive mode that gives way to the inevitable self-examination mode as the long evening progresses. Proprietor Randy Quaid, channeling Jerry Lee Lewis from a previous film, remains goggle-eyed throughout, even when explaining to son Lucas Black that he doesn’t want him to make the same mistake he did of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere and, presumably, becoming a lynchpin in the apocalypse. Black, whose promise as child star is fulfilled here in a film that doesn’t require it, plays moon-calf to Charlie, despite not being her baby daddy, while the gang-banger (Tyrese Gibson) frets about a court date, and the snooty patrons stuck at the diner when their car broke down demonstrate where the nuclear family (Jon Tenney, Kate Walsh, and Willa Holland in bootylicious wardrobe) has gone wrong with half-hearted melodrama, even when putatively mending fences as the bullets fly. And fly they do. Part of the film’s mythology is that angels attack by possessing fragile human bodies that succumb to a hailstorm of lead, and that locking a door can thwart the intent of God.
The effects are competently executed, though they are a rehash of the visual vocabulary of demonic possession reaching all the way back to THE EXORCIST. The cloud of flies plays more like an infomercial for pest control than the scourge it is intended to be. As for the angel-as-commando motif, the closest it comes to manifesting anything holy is the holey nature of its internal logic. The horror elements are old hat, and none manage to raise so much as one goosebump. The best element involves the slow approach of an ice-cream truck to the besieged diner, the tinkling melody breaking for a moment the tedium of the otherwise tired pacing.
LEGION never gets around to explaining who the baby daddy actually is, or why this particular child, whose mother smoked while carrying it, is the key to a brighter dawn. There is the sickening feeling that this exercise is the absurd is merely the first installment of what all concerned hope will be a franchise, and that the audience will stick around for subsequent installments to find out.