Land of the Dead Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/25/2005
I’ve always liked zombie movies for some reason. They are all basically the same, but they are fun. In the last two years though, I have seen a sub par zombie movie (2003’s 28 Days Later…though I’m apparently the only one who thinks that), a great zombie movie (last year’s remake of Dawn of the Dead…ditto on being alone in that opinion), and an enjoyable zombie comedy (Shaun of the Dead…no argument there.) Now we have the daddy of all zombie filmmakers, George A. Romero, bringing us a fourth Dead movie, Land of the Dead.
In an alternate version of the present, there are three classes of people: the rich, the poor, and the zombies. The few remaining living live in Pittsburgh (though it’s never identified as such) and are protected on three sides…the Monongahela River, the Allegheny River, and a third side protected by electric fences and armed guards. The main way to get into the city is over a bridge called The Throat. The rich live a gated high-rise tower known as Fiddler’s Green. Inside of the Green are a mall, fancy restaurants, and other things for the rich to escape the reality that they live in a city surrounded by zombies. The Green was built by businessman Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), and in his mind, he has acted as the leader of the city. The people who don’t live in the Green have to fend for themselves. Kaufman does hire mercenaries though to get supplies for the citizens. The leader of the mercenaries is Riley Denbo (Simon Baker.) He has designed a zombie battling assault vehicle called Dead Reckoning (a $2 million vehicle paid for by Kaufman) that is equipped with machine guns and fireworks, or sky flowers as they call them, to distract the zombies while they get away. His assistant is Charlie Houk (Robert Joy), a mentally slow, half-scarred crack-shot with a gun. The second in command is Cholo DeMora (John Leguizamo.) His team members are Foxy (Tony Nappo), Cholo’s assistant, Pretty Boy (Joanne Boland), the driver of Dead Reckoning, and Mouse (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), a skateboarder. Both teams are supposed to make raids to get supplies, but Cholo has another agenda though. He is conspiring with Kaufman to get the more high-end stuff for the millionaire. Cholo wants a place in the Green, so he does this sneaky stuff for Kaufman. All Riley wants is to make enough money to buy a car to take himself and his friends to Canada where there supposedly aren’t any zombies. Meanwhile, outside the city, the zombies, a.k.a. walkers, a.k.a. stenches (the derogatory word for them), are doing what they do best…mindlessly searching for live human flesh to eat. While none of them has the ability to think, one of them named Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), named after what it reads on his gas station uniform, has become the leader of the zombies because he has figured out a couple of things. First off, he has learned to not be distracted by the sky flowers. Secondly, he gets a hold of a machine gun and figures out that he can use it to shoot the humans. He teaches Number 9 (Jennifer Baxter), a cheerleader zombie with half of her face ripped off; Butcher (Boyd Banks), a zombie who wields a butcher knife; and Tambourine Man (Jasmin Geljo), a zombie who plays a tambourine in a zombie band, all how to fight back against the humans. As the movie opens, Cholo, Foxy, and a rookie named Mike (Shawn Roberts) go on a supply run when Cholo makes a detour into a liquor store. Even though Riley warns Cholo not to go after unnecessary supplies, he does it anyway. Mike is bitten, and before someone can do something about the rookie, he kills himself. This brings a rift between Riley and Cholo, making Riley’s desire to leave that much greater. Cholo brings the alcohol from the liquor store to Kaufman and tells him of his desire to retire in the Green. Kaufman double-crosses Cholo and tells him that his services are no longer needed. As he is escorted out of the office, Cholo escapes from Kaufman’s security guard (Matt Birman) and steals Dead Reckoning with the intention of extorting money out of Kaufman. Cholo demands $5 million by midnight or he will blow up the Green using Dead Reckoning. Riley, on the other hand, wants to pick up his new car from Chihuahua (Phil Fondacaro), a midget club owner who had promised him a car. After discovering that the promised car is not in Chihuahua’s garage, he heads to the club to confront the tiny owner. While at the club, he witnesses two zombies fighting in a cage over a prostitute named Slack (Asia Argento), who was put in there as bait. Riley and Charlie rescue Slack (and kill Chihuahua in the process), which lands all three in jail. It’s there that Riley finds out that Slack used to be a soldier, but Kaufman decided that she would make a better prostitute than a soldier. Kaufman springs them out of jail and asks them to bring back Dead Reckoning. Riley agrees to bring it back, as long as he will be allowed to leave the city in a new car and enough weapons to last them for a while as they go to Canada. Kaufman agrees and Riley’s team heads off to stop Cholo and bring back Dead Reckoning. They won’t be alone though; they will be joined by three soldiers assigned by Kaufman named Manolete (Sasha Roiz), Motown (Krista Bridges), and Pillsbury (Pedro Miguel Arce), the last of which is a huge Samoan. Back outside the walls of the city, Big Daddy has Butcher chop a hole in the wooden wall and they go through it (shouldn’t have they made the wall out of concrete?) They go to the river’s edge, and Big Daddy realizes that zombies don’t need to breathe underwater, so he leads the zombies across the river and into the city, where it becomes a smorgasbord of human flesh. Riley and his friends need to find a way to get Dead Reckoning back from Cholo so he can use it to stop the zombies and get out of the city for good.
One of the problems with Romero’s Dead movies is that they are so preachy. They can’t just be a zombie movie; they have to make a “statement.” While that sets them apart from other zombie movies, it can be annoying if you are just looking for some good zombie fun. That is why I liked last year’s remake of Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead better. The original version was an attack on commercialism; the remake took all of that preachiness out of it and made it a good time at the theater. Does that mean that Romero shouldn’t be allowed to make his statements? Heck no…but I don’t need to listen to them. In this movie, his statement was over class structure, with the bottom being the zombies. I didn’t get the metaphor of sympathizing with the zombies though. Romero tried to compare the zombies with terrorists, and the character of Riley feels like the zombies are just looking for the place of their own. Huh? They’re freakin’ zombies! All zombies want to eat human flesh, so they really don’t need to be sympathized with. Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all zombies are bad, so they don’t need a place of their own…they just need to be destroyed. Am I being too harsh on zombies? I thought that the class structure of Fiddler’s Green vs. everyone else made more sense, but again, I don’t want to be given a sermon at a movie.
The performances were fine…for a zombie movie. Baker got a chance to play an action hero after years of doing straight drama on CBS’s “The Guardian.” After being in the awful The Ring Two, his big screen career might finally take off here. Leguizamo seems to always have fun being a bad guy, and he does a decent job here as well. Hopper has proven time and again that he can play a great bad guy, from 1986’s Blue Velvet, to 1994’s Speed, to the first season of FOX’s “24,” but I couldn’t see him as a corrupt businessman, because he is so closely associated as a hippie from his Easy Rider days. Argento was okay, but I don’t know why she has this cult fan base built around her. Her only other high profile movie was 2002’s mediocre XXX, so why they love her is beyond me. The only theory that I can up with is that she is the daughter of legendary Italian horror director Dario Argento.
I liked Land of the Dead as a movie and tried to ignore the social studies lesson. It gave us all of the gory zombie fun that you’d want in such a movie. Romero even gave some shout-outs to a few zombie insiders: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the writers of Shaun of the Dead, appear as zombies chained to a photo booth that the rich could take a picture with; and renowned makeup and cosmetic special effects master Tom Savini appears as a machete wielding zombie. I recommend seeing the movie, because nobody does it better than Romero…but be prepared to get a political lecture once you get there.
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