All right, no snickering … but what is it about Milla Jovovich as cartoon action hero? I mean, what does she have that, say, Parker Posey doesn’t—who’s obviously no action diva but still came to mind in the middle of Resident Evil: Extinction, for the patented “drop dead, you idiot” baleful stare, the hint of a smirk along an ever so slightly dropsical lower-lip line. Like Christopher Lambert in androgynous mascara—or has he tried that already?—and just about as convincing. But there’s something in the imagery, of brute iconography and fashion, like rude beasts slouching toward the runways of Paris and Montreal, that carries them through the action fire.

It was Milla as a superpunk Maid of Orleans in Luc Besson’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc that first got me thinking about this. All raw intensity, no discernible talent, a headbanger’s idea of Oscar-level emoting (though in fact it’s my idea too: I’d have nominated her in an eyeblink) … unless, of course, the intensity is the talent. Going where no certifiably sane person has ever gone before, and she takes you on that journey. So beautiful, so brain-dead—also so galvanizing, like 1,000 volts of live wire in the middle of an electrical storm. No wonder they made her a saint.

But Resident Evil: Extinction‘s not up to that level of energy … though it does have Lambert’s favorite action director in Russell Mulcahy—and is there anyone better with sabers and knives and the whole quasi-medieval apparatus of battle? Not that Mulcahy’s what you’d call a nimble-footed stylist—more of a brooder, actually, who clodhops his way through visual apocalypse in the equivalent of concrete loafers—but there’s a nice Ad Reinhardt feel to the low-level contrasts, the gunmetal grays and somber earths and menacing inky voids. (Though the implied anti-immigrant posturing almost goes by him: “Look what will happen, America, if we don’t close our borders now!”)

But in the end it’s all about Milla and how many cannibal zombies she can decapitate with her feet. Pout, snarl, you go girl. Just be sure the L’Oreal doesn’t rub off …