Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 March 2004, AMC Fenway #7 (first-run)

I haven't seen the original 1978 Dawn of the Dead, so I can't comment on whether or not it loses some sort of satirical edge that the first movie is said to possess. It would almost have to, though - the new Dawn of the Dead is a video game. It's a video game that inexplicably has Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames in the cast, so the cut scenes aren't bad at all, but it doesn't have the depth of last year's 28 Days Later.

Director Zack Snyder is pretty polished for someone working on his first feature. He's got a knack for shooting a decent action scene, and for a guy I presume must have gotten his start in music videos, he isn't cut-happy. He's not quite in the John McTiernan/Sam Raimi league of action directors, but his direction is generally clear. I also like his tendency to pull a bit further back in his exteriors than many directors, especially when doing vehicular action. This does reinforce the video game look of the movie a little, but it also makes the scope feel a little bigger.

He and screenwriter James Gunn do make the movie a little jokey at times; there are a couple montage scenes that lighten the mood when it starts to get grim, but a movie about the end of the world should be grim. There's moments where the movie becomes more than a shoot-em-up, but there doesn't seem to be enough.

A good chunk of that comes from the actors; Sarah Polley is not doing much more than collecting a paycheck as a nurse, but Ving Rhames is excellent as a no-nonsense cop. Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer are fairly strong, as well, as other survivors. Matt Frewer pops up for a surprisingly decent small role, and the rest are adequate.

The action is bloody enough to elicit some "yuck"s, but the movie is seldom intense enough to make people who bought tickets for a movie called Dawn of the Dead queasey. Indeed, just about every death elicited a laugh from somewhere in the theater where I saw it. Does it make me old to find that creepier than a lot of what went on in the movie?

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