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MOVIE REVIEW

Legion

Tale of heavenly judgment, with a punch

By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / January 23, 2010

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Who needs highfalutin biblical language mucking up the effort to tell a butt-kicking tale of heavenly judgment? That’s apparently the attitude of director and co-writer Scott Stewart when he has one of the characters in "Legion," a desert diner waitress (Adrianne Palicki, “Friday Night Lights’’), rationalize the apocalypse by shrugging that maybe God has grown tired “of all the b.s.’’ (By comparison, this month’s uneven but still unfairly dumped-on “Book of Eli’’ plays like a postgrad theology seminar.)

Paul Bettany (“The Young Victoria’’) lends the vernacular stuff some balancing, British-accented refinement as Michael, an angel who disagrees with the Lord’s testy plan. He arrives in desolate Paradise Falls determined to protect Palicki’s Charlie and her unborn baby from possessed hordes who, like Michael, have the kid pegged as the messiah. (Annoyingly, the trailer’s already spoiled the B-movie screwiness of the blue-haired diner patron and the Good Humor driver who morph into otherworldly freaks, but veteran effects artist Stewart does deliver an additional geek thrill or two.)

While Bettany is “The Terminator’s’’ Kyle Reese in hacked-off angel’s wings, the movie’s cornered-ensemble element owes debts to “The Twilight Zone’’ and Stephen King, and is about as blunt in its attempts at character-revealing introspection. Grizzled diner proprietor Dennis Quaid chews over the difference between good intentions and plain old foolishness with grease-monkey son Lucas Black, who didn’t father Charlie’s baby, but is set on playing Joseph to her Mary. Customer Tyrese Gibson gets a vaguely offensive lecture on responsibility from God-fearing cook Charles S. Dutton. And Stewart dares to try a tentative bit of pro-choice/pro-life discourse, as Charlie laments her plight.

What’s silly is that it’s the prospect of unplanned single parenthood that’s really distressing her here, and not so much the mob of scary-angel thingies gathering outside. For the surprising amount of time the movie spends trying to breathe real life into them, they’re as implausibly, adaptably shockproof as in any doomsday flick. Quaid can see an old biddy flash shark’s teeth and go skittering across the ceiling, and he still just talks about how she “went crazy.’’ Talk about slow on the uptake. Maybe he needs someone blasting the soundtrack’s thunderous Gabriel’s horn effect into his ear.

As a tale of pulpy biblical proportions, “Legion’’ holds together best in a couple of scenes between Michael and Gabriel (Kevin Durand, setting aside his redneck persona from “Lost’’ and elsewhere). It’s hardly “Wings of Desire,’’ but there’s suitable apocalypse-deliberating gravitas and melancholy, accompanied by - hell, yeah - fight moves with bulletproof, razor-sharp angel’s wings.

LEGION

Directed by: Scott Stewart

Written by: Peter Schink and Stewart

Starring: Paul Bettany, Adrianne Palicki, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Kate Walsh, Charles S. Dutton, and Kevin Durand

At: Boston Common, Fenway, and suburbs

Running time: 100 minutes

Rated: R (strong bloody violence and language)

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