[Screen It]


(2019) (Bill Murray, Adam Driver) (R)

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Comedy/Horror: Residents of a small town must contend with a zombie outbreak.
In the town of Centerville, the population is 738, meaning local cops Cliff Robertson (BILL MURRAY) and Ronnie Peterson (ADAM DRIVER) don't have to do much beyond checking into allegations from Farmer Miller (STEVE BUSCEMI) that a homeless man, Hermit Bob (TOM WAITS), stole some of his chickens. Even the kids at a detention center, such as young Olivia (TALIYAH WHITAKER), are generally well-behaved.

But things start getting weird when communications start glitching and then the sun doesn't set at the right time, the result -- it turns out -- of polar fracking. That also has the unexpected side effect of the dead coming back to life, something local man Hank Thompson (DANNY GLOVER) is the first to discover in the local diner upon finding the grisly remains of the two women who work there.

Ronnie is quick to ascertain that's the work of zombies and that he, Cliff and their third cop partner, Mindy Morrison (CHLOE SEVIGNY), must alert both the locals, such as convenience store owner Bobby Wiggins (CALEB LANDRY JONES) as well as tourists such as Zoe (SELENA GOMEZ) and her two male friends who are staying at the local motel run by Danny (LARRY FESSENDEN).

Realizing the only way to kill the zombies is by blowing off their heads or by decapitating them -- something new mortician Zelda Winston (TILDA SWINTON) is quite adept at with her samurai sword -- the cops try to kill off the growing number of undead in their town.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
They say it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. The same can be said about certain movie genres. Granted, some people -- such as fans of big-screen romantic comedies or romantic dramas that play on the likes of the Hallmark Channel -- like the similarities and the familiarity of the various tropes that are used with such offerings.

For those of us who see lots of movies year after year, it's nice to see some new spin put on the usual conventions (such as what "500 Days of Summer" did for rom-coms). Even for genres where that would seem difficult, it's occasionally done and yes that even includes the subgenre of zombie films.

Ever since George Romero brought the undead to life on the screen in "Night of the Living Dead," most such pics have just been more of the same old, same old. After all, it would seem there are only so many ways one can portray slow, lumbering and brain-hungry monsters, meaning most of the heavy lifting, so to speak, must be done by the would-be victims.

Yet, for the myriad of such flicks that unimaginatively offer just more of the same, we occasionally get a "Shaun of the Dead," "I Am Legend" or "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" that manage to put a spin and fresh coat of cinematic paint on the genre. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch hopes to add his name to that list with "The Dead Don't Die," a droll zombie flick that's intended to elicit laughs rather than screams from its audience.

Despite its well-worn genre, I had high hopes for this flick, stemming only from the trailer and the high profile cast. Alas, while it has some decent moments scattered here and there, this is otherwise a fairly flat disappointment that misses its mark and features an approach and various elements that the filmmaker apparently seems to believe are novel, but have been done before and clearly better by others in the past.

For instance, one character -- among others who easily could have been jettisoned with no ill or even noticeable effect -- is a TV anchor named Posie Juarez, seemingly only because she's played by Rosie Perez. Steve Buscemi plays a racist farmer who wears a "Make America White Again" hat, only as a dig at Trump supporters with nothing else to accompany that other than having a back friend (or, at minimum, acquaintance) played by Danny Glover.

The main characters, though, are played by Bill Murray and Adam Driver as two of the three law officers in a small town who don't have to contend with much other than the farmer's allegations that the local hermit (Tom Waits) stole some of his chickens. That's pretty much a non-event for them, but apparently that's how they react to everything, including the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse that soon erupts and engulfs their town.

Remember Murray's deadpan and droll responses to the supernatural occurrences in "Ghostbusters?" Well, take that down a notch (or two or three, okay, make it seven) and you'll understand the "meh" response the zombies evoke from his and Driver's characters.

Considering those reactions, you come to believe and expect that Jarmusch has something up his sleeve that he's going to unleash on viewers lulled into the overall deadpan haze. And that's especially true when Driver's character briefly goes all meta and explains to Murray's that a song on the radio sounds familiar because it's the film's title song. Later, when asked why he keeps saying things are going to turn out badly, he responds it's because he read the shooting script.

A storyteller feeling more creative could have really had fun with that, such as having the characters needing to get their hands on that screenplay not only in order to see how things end, but also potentially change various elements, such as how their characters are intended to be killed.

Instead, those meta-moments are few and far in between and end up not really amounting to anything other than reminding viewers of times that sort of material has been done before. In fact, it sort of feels like the filmmaker believes he's the first to go that breaking the fourth wall route, along with making a zombie comedy and using that as social commentary. The latter is done clunkily at the end with Waits "outsider looking in" character summarizing the zombie-like nature of humanity, just in case we didn't get that from the material (or the scores of undead films that have preceded this one).

Even the decidedly quirky element of having Tilda Swinton playing a Scottish, samurai sword-wielding mortician (with yet another character surprise element being revealed late in the flick) feels like a one-note character described in the original story outline but never developed beyond that.

For a while, I gave all of that the benefit of the doubt in the belief that the droll and deadpan approach was going to pay off in some interesting or imaginative way. Unfortunately, it never does, and thus the overall offering ends up coming off as dull and lumbering as its title subjects. "The Dead Don't Die" offers a chuckle here and there, but otherwise feels like an old bloodhound splayed out on a front porch in the heat of the summer, refusing to learn or do anything new. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed May 15, 2019 / Posted June 14, 2019

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