You have to wonder what the people who greenlit the screenplay to “28 Weeks Later” were thinking. Then again, maybe the fiscal need to produce a sequel and cash in on Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” from 5 years ago was the only impetus. The script, such as it is, was co-written by director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (“Intacto”, here making his English-language directorial debut), and it seems more interested in scoring points with not-all-that-sly jabs at the current U.S. efforts in Iraq rather than, you know, making a half-decent film that can hold its own against the original. As a result, “28 Weeks Later” is one big mess — 40-something minutes of boredom and barely-there characterization followed by 50 minutes of running, shooting, bloodletting, and yes, very cool looking but hopelessly pointless firebombing.
In the aftermath of the Rage Virus infection, we learn that Britain has since been cordoned off by the rest of the world, and the infected believed to have all starved to death. Twenty-eight weeks later, a U.S.-led NATO force has begun repatriating Britons back into London under a heavy veil of security that will, inevitably, all be for naught. The lucky ones who return home were abroad when the Rage virus was unleashed, including two teen siblings who have been in a Spain refugee camp all this time. The project is under the command of Colonel Stone (Idris Elba, “The Reaping”), a stout military leader who seems to want to do good, but isn’t beyond slaughtering everyone at the drop of a hat if it all goes wrong.
The siblings are re-introduced to their father Don (Robert Carlyle, “The 51st State”), who when the film opens is hiding out with his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack, “Braveheart”) and other survivors at an English farmhouse. Alas, their refuge doesn’t last long, as the infected locates them and the slaughter is back on. In order to survive the ordeal, Don was forced to make a terrible choice. Fast-forward to the present, where Alice is found at the family’s house very much alive and, though infected, hasn’t “turned”. This spurs medical chief officer Major Scarlet (Rose Byrne, “Sunshine”) to find out why. Unfortunately, before she can uncover the secret of Alice’s apparent immunity to the Rage virus, another outbreak takes place, and Code Red, the total extermination of the repatriation program (and its “subjects”) is ordered by Stone.
There’s little surprise in store for viewers of “28 Weeks Later”, although if one were to give the film some credit, there is something brilliantly fiendish in the ways it brutally dispatches of its characters. Besides the two teen siblings, who are obviously untouchable from frame one, everyone else in the film is fair game. In fact, Fresnadillo kills off so many characters and so quickly, we are somewhat glad he never bothered to develop any of them beyond a few cursory personality traits before the fit hits the shan. Whenever you think the film has chosen a hero for the audience to root on, they are gruesomely killed off and we are back to square one.
Once the Rage virus re-surfaces at the 40-minute mark, “28 Weeks Later” is one long chase movie with no real direction. The characters themselves seem to come together to form a makeshift posse not because it makes sense, but because the script decided, “Yes, this is where everyone gets together!” It is also here that the politically left-leaning among you will latch onto a number of attempts at paralleling the military’s bloodthirsty reaction to “containing” the infection in the movie and Bush’s foreign policies in Iraq. Much of the film’s stabs at pandering to anti-U.S. military feelings are unsophisticated and odious, and can’t really be taken too seriously, lest they get more credit than they deserve.
The characters in “28 Weeks Later” are woefully lacking, not to mention poorly thought out. Actress Rose Byrne is a very lovely woman, and I have no doubt she’s talented, but casting her as an Army Major borders on the absurd. She is not only too young for the role in real life, but she looks too young, which makes it doubly worst. Jeremy Renner (“SWAT”), as a Special Forces sniper, has potential, but like everyone else in the film, the script barely makes any effort to flesh him out. The only other interesting character in the film is Harold Perrineau’s Flynn, a helicopter pilot who circles the city throughout the film. I’m still not sure what Flynn’s job is, besides to fly around with, apparently, no real assignment except to help out Renner’s Doyle, who has since gone off the reservation. Then again, nothing about the film’s military protocols make any sense, so why bother with Flynn’s job?
It’s hard to find a solid number for the budget of “28 Weeks Later”, but as this is a Hollywood sequel, it is safe to assume that whatever Danny Boyle had to work with in 2002, the fine folks in Lalaland tacked on a few extra (or dozen) millions to the sequel’s budget. Did it pay off? After a very good $19 million first week gross at the box office, “28 Weeks Later” quickly fell off, topping at just south of $29 million at the end of its theatrical run. Likewise in the UK, where the film opened to 3 million pounds, before topping off at 5 million. Overall, the film took in about $40 million worldwide. Once you add in DVD and TV sales, the sequel should be in the black. That is, unless the budget was much higher than expected.
So what does it all mean? Despite poor reviews and even poorer word of mouth (everyone who wanted to see the film saw it in its first week of release, and apparently didn’t like it enough to tell their friends to go, which explains the precipice drop at the box office from the first opening week), there’s little reason to believe that an as-yet-untitled third entry in the franchise will not be forthcoming. The series’ original director, Danny Boyle, has mention that he would be willing to return to the franchise he created and take the Rage virus to Russia. It’s a mystery why he seems to prefer Russia to continuing the storyline in a more logical fashion, by introducing it to the rest of Europe, as the ending of “28 Weeks Later” would seem to suggest. But perhaps a smaller budget, coupled with a more human-themed story, will resurrect the franchise.
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (director) / Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, JesÃºs Olmo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne (screenplay)
CAST: Robert Carlyle … Don
Rose Byrne … Scarlet
Jeremy Renner … Doyle
Amanda Walker … Sally
Shahid Ahmed … Jacob
Harold Perrineau … Flynn
Catherine McCormack … Alice
Idris Elba … Stone