Sunday, June 26, 2005

Land of the Dead ... the Pants review

When Mr. Pants asked me if I'd go see Land of the Dead with him I only said yes because I wanted to be nice. Frankly, I would have been happy staying home and watching paint dry (and there's plenty of that to be done around here). Although I really liked Shaun of the Dead, I'm not much of a zombie movie person. As far as scary movies go I think I'm more of a vampire movie person. Vampires are so tidy. Sure, they feast on human blood, but they generally leave very little mess and are otherwise considerate and polite--in fact some of them can be downright charming. Not so with zombies, who rip folks apart and noisily slurp up their guts, leaving gore in their wake. And really, snatching up severed limbs or digits from the ground and greedily stuffing them into one's mouth is just so declassé.

Nonetheless, on Friday night I gamely accompanied Mr. Pants to the theater (full of young children and a couple of squalling babies, of course--where are the flesh-eating zombies when you need them?) to watch George Romero's latest, which Mr. Pants had assured me had gotten a stellar review in the NY Times. It was alright--entertaining but no masterpiece. I thought its backstory offered up a lot of great possibilities for a far more interesting film than the one that got made.

LOTD is set in a world that's been mostly taken over by the zombies. The living are crammed into an urban compound that resembles New York, surrounded by miles of electrified fencing to keep the zombies at bay. Supplies are obtained by sending heavily armed raiding parties out into the zombiefied towns of the hinterland to scavenge whatever can be scavenged. The opening scene is during one such raid when our main protagonist, a nice-looking but bland guy named Riley (Simon Baker), observes that one zombie, sensing the presence of the the living, seems to be communicating with the other zombies. This, of course, represents a significant breakthrough in zombie evolution, like the zombie equivalent of some homo erectus discovering that he could dramatize his stories by drawing on the walls of his cave, perhaps.

Anyway, so the main storyline is that now the living have to deal with this new breed of "smart" zombie in place of the dumb old zombies who shamble about devouring whatever crosses their paths but otherwise don't have a care in the world. So not only are the zombies starting to think, but it seems as if they are developing both class consciousness and revolutionary leadership, demonstrated by the "main" zombie, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), who becomes so enraged by the carnage wrought upon his people that he leads them on an exodus toward the city of the living. (OK, I'm exaggerating ... I don't know what he thought because his "dialogue" consists of grunts and a few screams of rage that sounded vaguely vengeful).

Meanwhile, the city of the living is pretty much a class war powderkeg waiting for a match. The masses are hovering around the level of barbarism while the wealthy, personified by mogul/mob boss Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), enjoy their gourmet meals in a gleaming Trump Tower-like citadel called Fiddler's Green. This is the life to which Cholo (John Leguizamo) aspires--he's been working with the zombie-fightin' supply raiders and as a personal goon to Kaufman long enough to acquire a nest egg, and now he wants to buy a place in Fiddler's Green. Kaufman shoots that down pretty quickly because Cholo's not exactly the Fiddler's Green type, providing us with our subplot: Cholo wants a lot of money or he's going to blow Fiddler's Green off the map ...

So anyway, there are all these characters who we don't really give a damn about (except maybe Cholo--I liked him) because there's not much character development going on, facing imminent dismemberment by the army of smart zombies on their way to the city. The zombies' leader, Big Daddy, evokes almost as much sympathy as the living protagonists--in fact we like him a lot more than Kaufman (much of the pleasure in the movie comes from hoping for Kaufman's eventual end as zombie chow. Or at least maybe we'll get to see him staring down the barrel of Cholo's gun ...)

But all this was way less interesting to me than the story of the city itself, especially the incipient class struggle that was brewing. Some guy (I think the character's name was Mulligan) was trying to organize the underclass masses in a revolt against Kaufman, and he tries to get our bland hero Riley to join. Nosiree, Riley wants to head off to Canada, which has apparently become unclaimed wilderness, to just try to make it on his own. So instead of siding with the struggle of The People against The Man, which would have been interesting, we're expected to identify with this self-centered prick who's just interested in saving his own ass. (Oh yeah, he's taking along a friend he saved from a fire and a chick he saved from certain zombie death ... )

Anyway, so a lot of zombies get mowed down, and a lot of the living get disemboweled and devoured, yada yada yada ... but the big payoff I was hoping for (SPOILER ALERT!!) didn't really come. No, even though by rights Kaufman should be dismembered and consumed by a zombie, he gets a relatively comfy death by explosion. What a letdown.

On the other hand, LOTD was way better than A Day Without a Mexican, which Mr. P and I rented Saturday night. I don't think I've ever seen such a promising idea for a movie turned into such utterly unwatchable crap. We couldn't finish it--we went out to watch the paint dry instead.


Lia said...

You put your face on a gumball. Awesome.

Lisa B. said...

I'm glad you like it!