Review in a Hurry: Remember how, when you were watching The Road, you thought to yourself, "This needs more kung fu and Jesus"? God, and the Hughes brothers, heard your prayers. Denzel Washington is superbadass as a lone righteous dude carrying the last Bible across postnuke America, but the movie ultimately runs out of gas quicker than the rusty cars driven by the bad guys.
The Bigger Picture: Considering that The Book of Eli combines the postapocalyptic milieu of a Mad Max flick with the brutal violence and gospel message of The Passion of the Christ, it's easy to imagine that it might become Mel Gibson's favorite movie of the year. Will it be yours? That may depend upon how much you're willing to believe (in all senses of the word).
Washington plays a man initially known only as Walker, though eventually (nonspoiler spoiler, since it's in the friggin' title) revealed to be named Eli. He walks alone across a barren and overheated landscape, occasionally killing hairless cats for food, cleaning himself with KFC moist wipes (best product placement ever!), listening to the last iPod on Earth and reading a leather-bound copy of the Bible, which we are told is unique because all others were destroyed after the nuclear war survivors blamed it all on religion.
He's headed for the coast, basically because he believes God told him to go there.
But standing between him and the ocean is a small town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who, as bad luck would have it, has been sending out biker minions to comb the wastelands for a Bible of his own, believing that merely by quoting it he can better subjugate the people. When Eli won't share, well, much lopping off of limbs ensues. Washington learned all his own choreography, and it looks awesomely brutal.
The Hughes brothers have always had a penchant for the horrific, whether it be in the 'hood (Menace II Society), Vietnam (Dead Presidents) or Victorian England (From Hell), and it's where they're most comfortable here, beginning with the truly jarring opening scene and continuing through various scenes of decay that manage to be unsettling despite their somewhat fantastical nature.
Unfortunately, they haven't come up with a worthy payoff. There's a certain point at which Eli simply becomes too indestructible to be credible, and unless you can buy the implication that he's under divine protection from an interventionist God, the rest just doesn't hold much interest.
Perhaps if you are looking for a faith-based actioner, that may be precisely what's called for. Those hoping for a bigger bang to their payoff, however, will be let down. The first two-thirds of the movie would earn an A, but your mileage may vary on the rest.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Be forewarned that the Hughes brothers don't shy away from violence against women. Even though the story overall has a positive message, the brutal moments of rape and attempted rape may not be your idea of a good time at the movies.
There's so much else to see, too—have a look in our Totally New Releases gallery!