Audiences hoping to re-experience the thrills of director Danny Boyle's original zombie shocker, "28 Days Later," will have to resign themselves to watching that flawed but entertaining heart-pounder again. The sequel from writer-director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo ("Intacto") looks committee-produced and halfhearted, a zombie movie that, unlike its half-dead main attraction, is all the way gone.
Seven months have passed since the last Rage virus victim died of starvation in London. The U.S. Army controls the empty city's quarantined district where adolescent siblings are reunited with their father, Don (Robert Carlyle), after his narrow escape from a marauding band of diseased zombies that presumably took the life of the children's mother, Alice (Catherine McCormack). Nevertheless, Alice in fact has survived thanks to a genetic immunity that may provide an antibody against the insidious Rage microbe.
Enormous plot holes, indistinct swipes at social satire and a wayward emphasis on feeble child characters contribute to the film's clinical tediousness. This isn't just a bad movie; it's a cut-and-paste example of how and why so many sequels are predictably letdowns.
There's a notable lack of urgent discovery in the beginning minutes of "28 Weeks Later" in spite of its thundering musical score of goth metal. Fresnadillo makes no attempt at matching the fast-twitch blast of graphic energy that exploded from the first film's opening sequence, in which contaminated lab monkeys broke free from their cages to wreak unthinkable havoc. Here, a group of civilians hides quietly around a dinner table inside a boarded-up rural farmhouse. Don and Alice retreat to an upstairs bedroom when diseased automatons invade the dark crevices of the house to bite and spew blood on the uninfected civilians. Don jumps out of a second-story window, abandoning his wife in the process, before escaping in a motorboat whose blades chew at the tainted flesh of his spastic attackers.
The lead-up seems to promise an "Omega Man" perspective of one man's attempt to escape an inevitable doom. Instead, the plot veers off into a militarized London overseen by U.S. Army Commander Gen. Stone (Idris Elba), where Don's children join their traumatized father in a refugee compound that seems more like an internment camp. Never mind that the children effortlessly skip out of the army's "secure zone" to gather possessions from their home, where they discover their mother alive though unwell. The movie doesn't care about credibility or cohesion. "You want a sequel we've got a sequel" is the prevailing attitude.
The most visually arresting moment comes in the form of an exceptionally gory climactic scene that seems lifted from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's "Grindhouse." A helicopter pilot uses his chopper blades to make mincemeat of an approaching group of zombies on the ground. The helicopter tilts at a perilous angle before slicing heads, torsos and limbs a-go-go. It's an unfortunate parallel that points out the weakness of "28 Weeks Later" when it's compared to a film like "Grindhouse," which used the scene to gently mock the genre.
A turning point finally comes when Army Ranger Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) disobeys Gen. Stone's order to fire on civilians after the quarantine is broken. Doyle leads a small pack of survivors away from the American soldiers and zombies, who coincidentally line up on the same side of the law, or lack thereof. Although by this time, it doesn't matter who the villains are or if there is any hope for humanity. The audience is simply being baited for another continuation of more of the same. Judging from this psychology, humankind at least the moviegoing portion really is staring into an abysmal future. (R) 99 min. S