Sometimes DI - digital intermediate, that is, the computer-aided manipulation of film to alter the color balance and saturation of the footage - works pretty well. And sometimes, you see a movie that is so aggressively, stupidly DI'd that you're just like, "Fuck me, that is a lot of DI." Okay, so you probably do not specifically do that, because you are probably not as much of a cinematography geek as I am, and that reflects well on you. But the point I was driving at was that The Book of Eli, a weirdly half-religious adventure story set 30 years after a nuclear conflagration left the United States a burned-out wasteland, has a lot of digital intermediate done very poorly, and it is so specifically terrible-looking that I can well imagine it turning an average person on the street into a raving anti-DI partisan. Or perhaps it is better to call that my hope.

At any rate, the colossal amount of digital post-production, resulting in a film that is very gloomy and underlit, and desaturated to a level virtually unimaginable by normal people - think Tom Stern's work with Clint Eastwood, especially Letters from Iwo Jima, and you are still in fact thinking too colorful, but you are facing in the right direction, with the addition of a lot of steel greys and dusty browns - and the only reason I harp on this is that I can think of very little else to say about The Book of Eli. If there is anything of even the least note about this film, it is that it's been quite a good long while since I can recall a post-apocalyptic film to invent so very little and to rip off the Mad Max movies quite so happily. Devout fans of the genre, of course, have a certain understanding that rip-offs will occur, for the number of post-apocalyptic movies from the early 1980s that are virtually nothing but Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior with different character names can hardly be fathomed by those who haven't witnessed it firsthand. Of course, that was the 1980s, and most of those films were made by Italians. The Book of Eli is not nearly that derivative, but it's far, far more besotted with over-worked tropes than nearly any other post-apocalyptic film of the last decade or so. Which is, I don't know, kind of a notable achievement? It's bad and boring as a result, but it least it has the comfortable badness of familiarity.

In the beginning, a man in a dusty, dark forest shoots an arrow into a scrawny, hairless cat that was sniffing around a human corpse. Which is, to be fair, a nice, efficient way to usher us into the film's universe: "man, there is just no damn food at all in this world, and people have to kill kitty cats just to keep from starving to death in these dusky, post-nuclear woods." The effect is rather spoilt by the way that the arrow, in flight, snaps into slow-motion for a bit, and a bit of dust gets pinged off the arrowhead in some moronically sexy and stylish way, and we all take a good long remember about why The Matrix was ultimately bad for the art of cinema.

This cat-killer ends up being our hero, by the way, a stern, humorless man played by Denzel Washington. Thanks to the title, we can be reasonably sure that his name is Eli, so let's be exceptionally thankful for that title: otherwise, we'd have no name for our protagonist until substantial into the film's second hour. So, Eli is journeying by a drifting, wandering path into the western half of the former United States, on a mission from God: he is bringing a Bible (almost without fail referred to simply as "the book", or "a very special book", or that kind of thing) to a destination that he does not know yet, but God will tell him. In the meanwhile, in a small town in the Southwest, a fellow named Carnegie (Gary Oldman) is trying to rebuild a society like he remembers from before the war, and he wants to find a copy of a Bible to use like the great religious idealogues of old: to control the hearts and minds of the rubes in his care, while his gunmen and monopoly over potable water take care of their bodies. Eventually, of course, Eli and Carnegie come face to face, and so begins a standoff that turns into a chase that turns into a shoot-out and explosion-fest.

There are a few ideas on display here that are reasonably compelling, like the detail that most of the people alive at the time of the war were made blind in the bombing, and that essentially nobody under the age of 30 has any literacy now, or more than the most cursory, halting knowledge of what the world used to be like. Not that the latter, in particular, is a tremendously original notion, but at least we can tell that the world of The Book of Eli was conceived with a certain degree of internal logic. But the few ideas that work cram up uncomfortably with the ideas that don't (we're told that people burned all of the Bibles except this one, as they blamed religion for the war - really? Every last copy of the most in-print book in Western civilization? Not a single zealous holdout gathered together a hidden cache?), and the great majority of the story isn't idea-driven, anyway: it's all about Eli and Carnegie having their duel, with a young woman named Solara (Mila Kunis) as the chief of several pawns in between them, and here is where it really does start to feel like every other retread of the central situation in Mad Max 2. And unfortunately, Carnegie and his henchmen are just a bunch of sand-blasted men in ratty clothes, and not punk drag queens, thus depriving us of the chief joy of such films.

Mostly, it's just a lot of action with Eli and his big damn knife spinning around and chopping people's limbs and heads off, and everything is grey as an autumn sky. There's one early scene that frames the fighting as a flat plane of silhouettes, and this sequence works rather damn well; but otherwise, the directors Allen and Albert Hughes - the twin brothers who last work, almost nine years ago, was the vile From Hell - manage to find the way to provide maximum violent death with minimal grace or artistry. Virtually nothing about their direction does much if anything to raise Gary Whitta's screenplay above the tediously derivative; and they seem largely uninterested in pursuing the script's bizarrely self-contradictory theology (at once both anti-evangelist and pro-fundamentalist, and despite lionising Eli's behavior for most of the running time, it is all of a sudden decided at the end that he lost his way). Add in the absolutely pointless twist at the end that does nothing but wave its hands and shout "woo-hoo, a twist! how fun!" - though it is a fair twist, and one that does not contradict the rest of the movie - and basically, The Book of Eli is naught but a fairly brainless vision of a post-apocalyptic world like several others, with slack action and the ugliest color palette I've seen all year. Okay, this is the first 2010 film I've seen, but you know what I mean.