Tuesday, June 18, 2019
The Dead Don't Die (2019) * 1/2
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi
Rereading my review of Zombieland, I could almost copy and paste it for my review of Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die, with the title being the funniest thing about the movie. But, no, I will write a full-length review, because that's what I signed up for. Jarmusch had lofty aims with The Dead Don't Die. He wanted to make a zombie movie, but also sprinkle in pop culture references, political satire, breaking the fourth wall moments, and a Deep message. The movie is a mixed bag which soon just feels all over the map, and ultimately doesn't distinguish itself from other zombie movies.
Zombies are not compelling villains. Jarmusch attempts to infuse some subtle humor into them by having them spout one or two words repeatedly (usually something they loved in life, like chardonnay or iPhones), but they pretty much lumber along and overwhelm their prey with sheer numbers. How do the dead rise from the grave and walk the planet as the undead? Apparently, polar fracking has shifted the Earth on its axis, and this causes longer daylight hours, erratic radio and cell phone reception, and the tiny matter walking corpses looking to eat people.
In the tiny town of Centerville, in an unnamed state, Police Chief Cliff Robertson (ho ho) (Murray) and his deputy Ronnie Petersen (Driver) patrol the quiet area. Their conversations are spoken in flat, almost emotionless tones, as if Murray and Driver were directed to try and out deadpan each other. This would explain their relative calm when it is determined zombies are out and about destroying the local diner and motel. .Thanks to numerous zombie movies and The Walking Dead, maybe Cliff and Ronnie aren't altogether shocked at the possibility of zombies in their midst.
Other characters are introduced, including Tilda Swinton as a Scottish (maybe) undertaker who wields a samurai sword and is maybe subconsciously happy a zombie apocalypse has arrived so she has targets to practice on. A local farmer (Buscemi) wields a shotgun and wears a "Keep America White Again" baseball cap. Cliff and Ronnie's police colleague Mindy (Sevigny) soon has to come out from behind the dispatch console at the police station and battle the walking dead. We have more people, all of whom simply brought on stage to futilely fight off the mob of decrepit corpses.
There are moments in which Ronnie explains he knows this will all end badly because he's read the script. Cliff is perturbed by this, chiding "Jim" for not allowing him to read the whole script. I'm not sure either actor read the script. Both actors have worked with Jarmusch previously and probably enjoyed the experience enough to work with him again. This is a skilled cast
unfortunately playing people who will be mauled or eaten to death by the zombie mob and become undead themselves. Then, there is Hermit Bob (Waits), who hides out in the woods watching the terror unfold and spouting off asides about the action, as if we needed a narrator.
Jarmusch may have come along too late to make The Dead Don't Die seem like anything more than a retread. He tries to freshen it up with obvious satire (one of the gravestones has the name Sam Fuller on it. He was a famed movie director back in the day, and maybe one person out of a thousand might know that at first glance). A few more might catch Cliff Robertson, but in the end, the living are blowing off zombie heads with shotguns, or slicing them off with a sword, or cutting them off with garden shears. These movies, no matter how you frame them, usually wind up as monotonous as killing zombies in video games. Everything else is window dressing, and yes there is even a Star Wars reference and Adam Driver is in the movie. Ho ho.