If Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and the return of the Hughes brothers (it’s been damn near a decade since From Hell) isn’t enough to jazz you about The Book of Eli, you’re probably not much of a film freak. OK, the movie is an apocalyptic tale with a religioso bent that does it no favors. We’ve been down this road to doom before, most recently in The Road. And Gary Whitta’s script chokes on the dust of what came before.
Luckily, Allen Hughes and his directing twin, Albert, have skills. They can energize the familiar. Washington’s Eli is a menace to a society that forgot about God when the “flash” (read: nuclear winter) reduced the world to rubble 30 years ago. Eli keeps heading West with his holy message. And Lord help the rapists, thieves and murderers who get in the way of his gun-slinging, machete-slicing self. Eli can slash and burn like Neo in The Matrix. Even boss man Carnegie (Oldman, making a tasty treat of villainy) rears up when cowboy Eli ambles into his trashy town. Carnegie wants the King James Bible he thinks Eli is carrying. Eli won’t give shit to this creep who beats up his blind mistress (Jennifer Beals) and threatens her hottie daughter (a vibrant Mila Kunis).
What happens next? See the movie or wait for Netflix. But look out for the killer scene with a geezer (Michael Gambon) and his wife (the great Frances de la Tour) who preserve the vestiges of civilization (music, china, silverware) and share creepy secrets. The Book of Eli isn’t as exciting or funny or inspiring as it wants and needs to be, and its preachy ending is an ordeal. But Washington, a movie star who can act, is one cool dude who is worth following anywhere.