[Screen It]


(2021) (Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell) (R)

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Horror: A zombie attack survivor is hired to assemble a team to retrieve $200 million from a casino vault in the walled-off, zombie-filled city of Las Vegas.

Sometime after zombies were accidentally unleashed on Las Vegas and eventually overran the city that's now walled off, those who acted heroically during the outbreak are working regular jobs. Having had to kill his wife after she turned into a zombie, much to the horror of his now-estranged daughter, Kate (ELLA PURNELL), Scott Ward (DAVE BAUTISTA) is flipping burgers and dreaming of having his own food truck. Maria Cruz (ANA DE LA REGUERA) works as a mechanic and Vanderhoe (OMARI HARDWICK) is a physical therapist.

Familiar with Scott's exploits, Vegas casino owner Bly Tanaka (HIROYUKI SANADA) comes to him with a proposition. With $200 million still in his casino vault now off the books due to the insurance payout, Tanaka offers to pay Scott one-quarter of that to put together a team, get into the walled city, grab the cash, and get out of Dodge. All while contending with the zombies and the government's plans to nuke the city to rid the world of the undead.

Scott immediately gets Maria and Vanderhoe on board and then recruits social media zombie killer star Mikey Guzman (RAUL CASTILLO) and his equally proficient cohort, Chambers (SAMANTHA WIN); chopper pilot Marianna Peters (TIG NOTARO); and safecracker Dieter (MATTHIAS SCHWEIGHÖFER), with Tanaka's head of security, Martin (GARRET DILLAHUNT), being forced onto the team.

Needing a way in, Scott reluctantly decides to use Kate for that, what with her working as a humanitarian volunteer at a detainee camp near Vegas where she must contend with the likes of lecherous guards such as Burt Cummings (THEO ROSSI). Kate agrees to help, but only if she gets to come along, what with her friend, Getta (HUMA QURESHI), having been transported with two other women into the city by mercenary Lily, a.k.a. The Coyote (NORA ARNEZEDER), only to not return.

Scott and Kate agree on the conditions of her joining the team that then heads into the city in hopes of retrieving the money, all while contending with the nuke countdown and the hordes of zombies and their smarter-than-average, alpha leaders.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

There's a time and place for almost everything and that includes getting randy with someone else. It's particularly true when the recipient of such behavior is a man who's driving a car. For a long time, I thought the worst that could happen in such a situation was showcased in "The World According to Garp" where, as John Lithgow's trans character stated, "I mean, I had mine removed surgically under general anesthesia. But to have it bitten off in a Buick..."

Apparently, there are worse things that can happen in such a situation as evidenced in "Army of the Dead." A newly married couple celebrates just getting hitched in Vegas by engaging in such front seat friskiness. That leads to the groom being understandably distracted to the point that their car drifts into the oncoming lane and strikes a military convoy carrying something "special" on a flatbed.

That falls off the truck to the road, a side panel opens, and before the soldiers can follow the order to "Get out of there!" a fast-moving zombie emerges and quickly lays waste to the military personnel, all in the shadows of Sin City.

What follows is a highly stylized, mostly slow-motion credits sequence - natch, set to "Viva Las Vegas" -- of zombies killing lots of people and some of those -- who we'll later meet with more details -- dispatching the undead with great proficiency. The question that remains following that is whether what happens in Vegas really does indeed stay in Vegas.

Yes, as that last statement signifies, the tone of the film - written and directed by Zack Snyder from a screenplay co-written with Shay Hatten and Joby Harold, is decidedly tongue-in-cheek, albeit heavy on the gruesome side of that. It's also so similar to James Cameron's "Aliens" in certain moments that you'll wonder who among the responsible creative types had just watched that terrific sci-fi action flick before putting this one together.

There's the leader, Scott (Dave Bautista), of the heavily armed team that heads back into Dodge, so to speak, fully aware of the monsters they'll encounter. They're accompanied by a company man (Garret Dillahunt) who's obviously present for far more nefarious reasons than simply babysitting the expedition. There's also a scene of having to walk slowly and quietly through the monsters (which is super effective).

There's a louder and more explosive "there's no way out so I might as well blow up some of them along with me" moment, a pregnant queen, and even a big looming explosion where the ride out may or may not be there when needed. Heck, I kept expecting a Newt-like kid character to show up, but I guess they didn't want to be THAT obvious.

That said, it's all done in such a goofy, gloriously over-the-top way that you can excuse most if not all of that, as well as the now well-worn tropes of the zombie sub-genre that we've seen countless times in all the related offerings. But throwing in the "Ocean's Eleven" Vegas casino heist plot element puts a fun twist on said material.

There are also various moments of effective humor (including where Omari Hardwick's tough-guy character is perpetually exasperated by Matthias Schweighöfer's jumpy novice one); some decently handled domestic issues moments (where Ella Purnell plays the young adult daughter who's estranged from Scott, what with having watched him kill her newly zombified mom in the past and then dropping the follow-up parenting ball) and lots of exciting, shoot 'em up action.

All of which makes this an entertaining offering for those who don't mind the decidedly R-rated content. I had a blast watching it from the "don't do that in a moving car" opening to the "is anyone going to make it out of this alive" finale. "Army of the Dead" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed May 16, 2021 / Posted May 21, 2021

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