Film, like music, like television, like food, has always been slogged down by labels. We’re told comedies are supposed to be goofy, with outrageous one dimensional characters who neither change nor question their motives beyond the surface level. We’re told capers are supposed to be fast-paced, constantly weaving layers of intrigue upon red herring upon big reveal. We’re told pizza should feature pepperoni or sausage, occasionally, a mix of like nine vegetables. But sometimes we break these labels, burst through these preconceived notions and end up with The Forty Year Old Virgin, Murder On The Orient Express, barbeque chicken pizza. All of the best movies break genre, if only for a few minutes, to show us they’re more than just another romantic comedy, more than just another tired chicken parmesan dish. Unfortunately, all the worst movies break genre too, bouncing and sputtering without direction as they try to reinvent the wheel and leave the audience stranded in bleak, horrible, genre-hopping places like Paradise Falls.
Here’s the thing about God. He either needs to be treated with reverence or lampooned without mercy. Either he’s entirely responsible for all we hold dear or a goofy figment of fairy tale bamboozlement. There’s no middle ground. There can‘t be a middle ground. Legion‘s attempts to be both a goofy, foul-mouthed, cliché-ridden horror film and a judgmental, humanity-has-ruined-itself-with-free-will epic. The result is disastrous, a clashing mess of high-falutin questions and low class, copout answers which succeeds only in ruining everything it attempts to create. It’s like dressing up in a clown mask and discussing the pros and cons of universal healthcare.
Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) is eight months pregnant, working as a waitress at a shady diner off the highway in the aptly-named Paradise Falls. The father, or soon-to-be father, is absent. Meek, mild-mannered Jeep Hanson (Lucas Black) has filled the void, much to the chagrin of his father Bob (Dennis Quaid), Charlie’s boss and local diner owner who is pissed off at the world because his wife left him. Due to bizarre circumstances not worth discussing here, Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Addison Montgomery-Shepherd (Kate Walsh), the janitor from Rudy, Tyrese Gibson and a few other people also find themselves at Bob’s diner when an old woman tells Charlie her baby will burn.
Now, at this juncture, Legion could have gone in one of two directions. A) It could have blared fast-paced hard rock, killed the old woman with various kitchen utensils and all involved could have celebrated using bad puns and outrageous braggadocio. B) It could have sent an angel to explain how God had turned his back on humanity, the old woman was an angel-possessed murderer and they all needed to band together to save Charlie’s baby so life could continue. Director Scott Stewart blends both. The old woman starts dropping computer-generated, echoed c-bombs like a drunken sorority channeling that little girl in The Exorcist, the Angel Michael (Paul Bettany) shows up to deliver long-winded soliloquies about the fall of man and Tyrese pulls out a sidearm just long enough to make vague references about a shady past.
Then all involved fight an ice cream truck driver. Then a mob of heavy metal fans. Then a knife-wielding little boy. All, of course, bookended by bullshit, forced fall of man conversations. Let’s just for a second accept the general premise. Let’s get on board with God a) existing, b) giving up on humanity, c) letting his angels inhabit weak-minded citizens and d) Paul Bettany choosing to save man rather than please his God. If this happened and many of the last people on Earth were fighting it out in a sketchy restaurant eerily reminiscent of the one in Natural Born Killers sans key lime pie, there would undoubtedly be some philosophical conversations. Legion is the type of movie which feels the need to soundtrack these conversations with stereotypical church choir music, almost to the point of mocking the entire exchange. We get it. The janitor from Rudy is the religious guy. He’s not forcing his beliefs down anyone’s throat; he’s simply talking about the unseemly, non-secular matter at hand.
Legion is an absolute mess, a masochistic disaster with an overly-aggressive score, mediocre, uninspired acting and a subject matter it both wholeheartedly embraces and mocks without repute. It’s one of those movies you just want to hate, you just have to hate because deep down, you know it hates itself. With a different writer, different director, a few different actors, Legion could have been, maybe not a great movie, but a movie that inspired someone else to make a great movie. As it stands, it’s a regrettable waste of time which should have chosen a genre, aimed for less and created a whole lot more.