LAND OF THE DEAD

(2005)
With Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark
Directed by George A. Romero
Reviewed by JB

Who's yer daddy?     George Romero finally gets a big budget and stars.  This is not necessarily progress.

     In Romero's previous DEAD films, there was nary a known actor to be found. This made for a realism that allowed viewers to fully invest themselves in the idea that the world was indeed overrun by flesh-eating ghouls.  In LAND OF THE DEAD, you never forget that you are watching John Leguizamo and a less than riveting Dennis Hopper, guys you have seen in movie after movie. Leguizamo is a good actor, and Hopper can be (though not here), but Romero films used to take place in a world all their own. LAND OF THE DEAD is set in a world made in Hollywood.

     Working with low budgets, Romero was forced to center his three other films around single sets - the house in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the shopping mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD and the underground research facility in DAY OF THE DEAD.  Each film had its own distinctive look and feel, so much so that, shown a 10-second clip from any of them, you could probably identify it immediately. ("Shopping mall?... hey, it's DAWN OF THE DEAD!")  With LAND OF THE DEAD, George Romero has a huge budget and access to state-of-the-art 21st century special effects, and he makes a film that, despite some typical Romero touches, winds up looking pretty much like any other dark, videogame-influenced, post-apocalypse action flick of the past ten years.  The sterile one-size-fits-all style of modern Hollywood has fully asserted itself over the vision of a unique genre director.

     LAND OF THE DEAD not a bad film. It's more than competently made, has few dull spots, delivers all the requisite thrills, chills and intestinal spills required of the genre, and is more fun, if less idiosyncratic, than Romero's previous DAY OF THE DEAD.  But this is the first original Romero DEAD movie in twenty years, and it's just not all that special.  28 DAYS LATER, the 2004 DAWN OF THE DEAD remake and even the parody SHAUN OF THE DEAD are all superior zombie films executed with more individuality and style.  In a way, Romero should be proud, as the students have now overtaken the master.

     LAND's premise - zombies are learning to adapt, use tools and organize - is intriguing, and the themes running underneath the usual "see a zombie, shoot 'em in the head" antics touch upon class warfare, zombies as symbols of oppressed people through the ages, man's inhumanity to man, and even the wars in the Middle East ("We don't negotiate with terrorists," says Hopper at one point.)  But none of these themes are explored or exploited in any meaningful way.  They just lie there, undisturbed, while an action-packed shoot-em-up flick plays out over them.

     Good points of LAND OF THE DEAD include "Big Daddy" (pictured above), a kind of next generation "Bub" (see my review of DAY OF THE DEAD for more on Bub), an exciting climactic assault on Dennis Hopper's city fortress in which all three classes - the rich, the poor and the zombies - meet, and a great cast that includes Asia Argento, daughter of the Italian horror director and former Romero collaborator Dario Argento.  Despite the handicap of being famous, Leguizamo does a fine job too, but Dennis Hopper recites most of his lines as if he were in a pre-production roundtable read-through. 

     Fans with good eyes will notice some fun zombie cameos such as SHAUN OF THE DEAD's Simon Pegg and splatter effects master Tom Savini.  And fans of all stripes will enjoy that staple clich√© of zombie movies, the poor schmoe who was apparently turned into a zombie while wearing a clown costume.  That must have been one memorable children's party. 3 - JB 

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