Written & Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Robert Joy, Asia Argento, Eugene Clark
My Advice: Solid matinee.
Time has passed since the zombie outbreak began. What humans remain have walled and fenced in cities and hired folks with lots of guns to keep them safe. In one city, Fiddler’s Green is the luxury highrise that sits at the center, overseen by Kaufman (Hopper). He controls and pays for everything, including the squads who go out into the smaller towns for supply raids. However, there’s unrest in the streets, as those who aren’t in Kaufman’s favor are pissed at being fed table scraps. Also, the undead are getting pissed off as well…
Okay, time for some history. Twenty years ago, Day of the Dead hit. It was 1985. Romero threatened a fourth movie: Twilight of the Dead. I held out hope, even after hearing about rights issues and budget issues…even when Romero was unable to get distribution for Bruiser. When I first started at Corona’s Coming Attractions, that magnificent (and now very dead) website, this was the first movie page I ever drafted. So basically, I have been waiting…patiently…for twenty fucking years for this movie. And thanks to the efforts of those glorious Brits behind 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, making zombie movies is profitable again. And here we are.
[ad#longpost]I cannot tell you the fear I felt as this film approached. It seemed like Romero would take the easy way out and ditch the (admittedly cornball) social commentary in favor of running shrieking zombies like those who have followed in his footsteps. I was wrong. It also seemed odd that he would change his pattern by not having a strong, black male as a lead in the film. I was wrong about that too. Can I tell you how refreshing it is to be wrong about a film for once?
The important thing to know about this film is you can’t go into it dry. If you are not familiar with the three films that have come before it, you’ll probably think it’s cheeseball. You also won’t understand the backstory of how things got the way they are. And, yes, Romero’s commentary on society is there and yes, it’s cheeseball and a bit wrong-headed. But going to a George Romero film and not expecting that is like watching a Jerry Bruckheimer film and wondering why physics have gone bye-bye. I’m not trying to be an apologist here, that’s just the way it is. And really, there’s nothing to apologize for. Romero’s original concept about how his zombie world would have evolved is nowhere near as ham-fisted as he made it out to be. You can dig on the haves vs. have-nots thing if you want to, or you can just enjoy shit blowing up and people being gnawed on. As Romero films should be.
The cast does their job well. And they know what they’re there for. Dennis Hopper gets some delightful scene-chewing moments. Simon Baker plays the perfect Good Guy. Leguizamo is Leguizamo, so of course he’s good. Asia Argento does well enough, although it’s worth pointing out that just about anybody could have played the part–not her fault. Still, it’s kinda nice to have Dario’s daughter in a Romero zombie flick, just for us geeks. And Robert Joy does some good things with his slow Charlie character.
All in all, I’m not displeased. I think the opening credits/setup for where we are in the series is a little heavy, but they didn’t do anything spectacularly wrong or that wasn’t in fitting with the world and continuity that Romero has created. Pains were taken to make everything Make Sense and not take what is already a suspension of disbelief and turn into a pinata of disbelief that can be beaten and kicked to pieces. I don’t have any problems with recommending a matinee to fans of the series. If you’re not a fan but just like the more “modern” zombie stories, you’re probably best waiting for video. At this point, I just want to buy Romero a drink and say, “Christ, George, what kept you?”