THE DEAD DON’T DIE – Review by Brandy McDonnell

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With an all-star cast and a popular genre premise, “The Dead Don’t Die” is perhaps the most accessible feature film yet from indie-film iconoclast Jim Jarmusch (“Stranger Than Paradise,” “Coffee and Cigarettes,” “Only Lovers Left Alive”).

It’s a shame, then, that his zombie comedy too often shambles as aimlessly as its undead inhabitants, with subplots that come to pointless dead ends, recurring gags that produce diminishing returns and repetitive socio-political screeds that get increasingly preachy.

The writer-director is known for his unhurried pacing, but it feels like we’re going to meet all 738 people in the small town of Centerville before the first zombies – played by longtime Jarmusch collaborators Iggy Pop and Sara Driver – burst out of their graves hungry to feast on human flesh.

Most of the actors are among the auteur’s returning favorites, but only a few actually get interesting parts to play as weird things start happening in Centerville. As we’re continually told, the ecologically unsound but corporately profitable practice of “polar fracking” has pushed the Earth off its axis, leading to days of almost endless sunlight, the disappearance of pets and wildlife and the rising of the dead from their graves.

These strange occurrences are frequently remarked upon by casually bigoted farmer Frank Miller (Steve Buscemi), patient hardware store owner Hank Thompson (Danny Glover), pop-culture obsessed comic-book store/gas station proprietor Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones) and many more.

Patrolling the town, bemused police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and doomsday-predicting Officer Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) are worried, but maybe that’s because they’re the only ones who realize they’re in a movie, as they make numerous references to the script and to Sturgill Simpson’s ubiquitous theme song. It’s too bad junior deputy Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) doesn’t get to comment on the writing, since she would be completely justified in complaining about the blubbering crybaby her character becomes.

Between the nifty way the zombies collapse into piles of ash when beheaded and the committed performances by Tilda Swinton, playing a Scottish mortician and samurai warrior, and Tom Waits, as a cantankerous hermit determined to stay out of the carnage, “The Dead Don’t Die” offers just barely enough deadpan humor and quirky characters to keep it interesting until the credits roll.

But it just feels like a movie with this much talent shouldn’t be so lifeless, zombies notwithstanding.

 

 

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell writes features and reviews movies, music, events and the arts for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma's statewide newspaper, and NewsOK.com, the state's largest news Web site. Raised on a farm near Lindsay, Okla., she started her journalism career in seventh grade, when she was elected reporter for her school's 4-H Club. Taking her duties seriously, she began submitting stories to The Lindsay News, and worked for the local weekly through high school. She attended Oklahoma State University, where she worked for The Daily O'Collegian and earned her journalism degree with honors. She worked for three years at small Oklahoma dailies The Edmond Sun and Shawnee News-Star. In 2002, she joined The Oklahoman as a features reporter, writing about movies, the arts, events, families and nonprofits. She moved to The Oklahoman's entertainment desk in 2007. In 2004, she won a prestigious Journalism Fellowship in Child & Family Policy from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Along with her membership in AWFJ, she also is a founding member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. Brandy writes The Week In Women blog for AWFJ.org.