Preachy Wild Western Shoots Blanks

    After a nine-year hibernation, twin directors Albert and Allen Hughes (“From Hell”) are back to make their mark on Hollywood.

    Too bad that mark is an unpleasant stain. Known for films laced with social critique, the brothers make no exception with this year’s postapocalyptic western: a righteous slap on the wrist for 21st-century consumers.

    To start, we meet Eli (Denzel Washington), a man who — much like Cillian Murphy in “28 Days Later” and Will Smith in “I Am Legend” — appears to be the only person left on the planet.

    Rather than making his way through the unscathed streets of London or Manhattan, however, Eli is trekking across what’s left of middle America, reduced to rubble by a war of human self-destruction and the subsequent obliteration of the ozone layer.

    But Eli is not nearly as helpless as you would think. Upon his first encounter with pillagers — yes, there are in fact many other people surviving in this dust bowl — we discover that not only does he possess superhuman senses, but he can wield a chainsaw-resistant samurai sword like nobody’s business.

    With untouchable ninja skills that would make Neo bow down, Eli creams any and all vigilantes who stand in the way of him reaching the West.

    While anyone from California knows that the West Coast is where it’s at, you may be wondering why this particular iPod-toting anti-hero has his heart set on the Pacific Ocean. Drumroll please: In Eli’s possession is a sacred book that holds the secrets to mankind’s salvation.

    Which book, you ask? I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

    The only other person on the ravaged frontier who recognizes the power Eli carries — and is determined to obtain it by any means — goes by the name Carnegie (Gary Oldman), self-appointed ruler of a small town of ruffians, straight out Clint Eastwood’s “A Fistful of Dollars.”

    A testament to history repeating itself — according to freshman screenwriter Gary Whitta — postapocalyptic America will look like one big Wild West showdown. Just substitute tumbleweeds with empty soda cans.

    So it’s up to Eli and his newly recruited accomplice, Carnegie’s rebellious stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis), to protect the precious book from the enemy and hand-deliver it to safety. Along the way, Eli teaches Solara about the world before her generation, where people were wasteful, and threw away things that others fight over now. Be prepared for some serious environmental preaching, political forewarning and lessons in morality.

    Well-intentioned as the doomsday heads-up might be, this cowboy showdown walks a thin line between action flick, Sunday-school parable and just plain stupid.

    True, the final twist will throw even Miss Cleo for a loop. And “Eli” is rather striking in terms of atmospheric cinematography and computer-generated hues in the vein of “300.” But with several distracting nods to companies that sponsored our consumer-driven past — Busch Beer, KFC, Apple, General Motors Corp., Kmart and Motorola, to name a few — the film is little more than one expensive advertisement.

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