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Book of Eli Movie Review: Denzel Kicks Butt! Bold Product Placements!

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In Book of Eli, Denzel Washington proves that age is nothing but a number, as he deftly fights and kills his way to action hero status in a post-apocalyptic world that will no doubt some big box-office numbers. Yet what separates this film from the I am Legends, the Waterworlds or the many other post-apocalyptic films is what Washington's character is protecting - the last bible on earth.

At first glance, one can't help but draw comparisons to last fall's The Road starring Viggo Mortensen. Both movies feature the traveling man heading to his purported destination. Both men have keen instincts for survival and a nose for sniffing out danger. Both are responsible for a precious traveling companion (Mortensen has his son; Washington has his bible and, later on, Mila Kunis, who joins him). Both films come to an end once they reach water. Both contain a mid-movie pit-stop at a cannibal house.

Yet whereas The Road was dark and somber and very serious, Eli is very much a Hollywood movie with lots of dust-up action, big weapons and product placements that somehow survive a wiped out world where characters don't know what a television is.

Despite the many biblical reference, Eli is not a "religious" movie. Rather is speaks volumes of how one book can be interpreted for good or evil depending on the hands it falls in. Just keep in mind that the bible will now forever be associated with KFC, GMC, Motorola and O Magazine.

The film centers on Eli (Washington), a man whom we don't know much about. We don't know where he's from or what happened to his former life. What we do know is that whatever occurred to the world must have been intense due to the horrific burn scars on his back. A loner, Eli is fully capable of fending for himself with his machete-style blade.

We also know that this is man not to be messed with. Early on, in what is one of the film's most memorable scenes, Eli takes on multiple attackers with his blade, wiping out the entire lot in just seconds.

The scene is impressive in that it was shot in one continuous sequence with no close-ups or quick-cuts. Washington does the hand-to-hand combat himself without the aid of stunt-doubles. Given the lack of action heroes in his age group, one can truly say that with Washington, a new butt-kicking action-star has arrived. Yet what elevates the scene even higher is that filmmakers Albert and Allen Hughes show it entirely as a wide shot in silhouette. The effect is not only shocking as moving bodies are stabbed and tossed around, but there is a kind of beauty in the movements, like watching a ballet, albeit with sounds of blades slicing.

When Eli comes to a fork in the road, the path he chooses takes him to a lawless town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman, in his first bad-guy role in 10- years). Yes, you can quote the bible here and say that Eli literally walks through the valley of the shadow of death.

Unlike his band of thieves and gunmen, Carnegie remembers the world as it once was. A dictator who built the one-street town through violence, he sends his illiterate men out on a daily basis to hunt down the very thing he feels will enable him to build and lead a new society under his reign: the bible.

Under this thumb is also his blind common-law wife, Claudia (an excellent Jennifer Beals) and her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis).

When Carnegie offers Eli the opportunity to stay and join his town, he becomes outraged when Eli chooses not too. Eli does take him up on the offer to stay the night and during this time, Carnegie sends Solara to sleep with him in an attempt to make him stay. However Solara ends up only talking to Eli, who says a prayer with her before sitting down to his meal. The next day, when Solara does the same with her mother at breakfast, Carnegie realizes that Eli has the bible. Descending upon the room, Carnegie finds him gone and thus a chase ensues.

In biblical terms, Eli and Carnegie's relationship becomes a sort of light/dark, angel/devil relationship. Both are equally committed to their visions and determined to prevail. Unfortunately only one can win.

Through a series of events, the impressionable Solara becomes a disciple of Eli's (to use another biblical reference) and ends up joining him on his quest. She's inexperienced but eager to learn. Eli doesn't want her at first, but with her own determination and stubbornness, he eventually has no choice and the duo become partners of sorts.

With Carnegie and his men in full pursuit, the action only intensifies. The bigger it gets, the bolder the product placement gets. A shot opens on the big GMC logo on a truck, then pulls back to show vehicle emerging from its barn-like shed. (With that kind of advertising, all that's missing is the Sparklettes logo on the back!) The filmmakers also focus on a mega-phone that says Motorola, before pulling back to show who's actually using it. I suppose this is probably the only way to use advertising in a post-apocalyptic word, right?

There's no need to say how things end, as in Hollywood, good prevails over evil most of the time in these kinds of movies. However there is a 6th Sense-type of an ending, so be sure to pay attention to detail, or else go back and watch the movie again to see the subtleties you missed. (Yes, the film is designed for repeat viewings.)

There is also a slightly cheesy scene where "the disciple" takes over for the "master" as Solara emulates Eli's look and heads off to continue the mission he started. Although she looks an awful lot like a Angelina Jolie (indeed, Kunis played young Gia Carangi in the 1998 Jolie HBO film Gia), the gravitas of a butt-kicking chick is not quite there with Kunis.

One really unbelievable scene stands out and that is in the opening shot where Eli kills a cat for dinner. That in itself is fine, it's just that the cat happens to be one of those rare and expensive hairless cats (a la Austin Powers movies.) It's hard to think that in a post-apocalyptic world where not much as survived that breed like that would be wandering around. A basic tabby cat would have been more believable, but a hairless one? Not so much.

After playing good guys in the Batman and Harry Potter films, it's fun to see Oldman playing his signature bad guy role. The mano-a-mano between these two powerful actors works on screen and makes you wonder why these two have not worked together sooner.

For the kind of wiped out world that exists in the movie, the product placement is pretty bold in Eli. For example, with water being scarce, Eli uses towelettes from KFC to keep clean. (Does anybody else see the racial stereotype in this?)

There's also a scene where Carnegie's henchmen bring him back a bag of books and magazines, which is dumped on the table. The one that gets the most close-up time is a copy of Oprah's O Magazine. However in this case, the advertising was initially not meant to be a plug for the Mighty O. The Hughes Brothers had shot an additional scene where the O Magazine was burned - but that scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Apparently the Hughes Brothers have never forgotten the fact that when their 1993 film, Menace II Society came out, Winfrey told her viewers to NOT go see the film for what she thought was negative portrayal of blacks. The magazine-burning scene was meant as a "middle finger" to her but the bigger question is: who wanted that burning scene removed? And will it make the director's cut on DVD?

It's wonderful to see the Hughes Brothers back to work in movies. The duo has not shot a film since 2001's From Hell. After viewing "Eli," one realizes how much their presence was missed. Welcome back to Hollywood, guys.