or “The Living Don’t Entertain”
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits, Austin Butler
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
104 mins. Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for language.
The Dead Don’t Die might have the greatest cast of 2019, but everyone in the film is a guest star in someone else’s movie, but no one knows who that someone is.
In the sleepy and small town of Centerville, the dead have started to rise. Polar fracking has caused the Earth to fall of its axis, causing strange phenomena like sunlight at odd hours or cell phones dying, and of course…zombies. Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray, Lost in Translation, Ghostbusters II) and Officer Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, BlacKkKlansman) don’t know how to stop the phenomenon, and Ronnie has a feeling that this is going to end up bad. The only residents in town that seem to understand the stakes are Hermit Bob (Tom Waits, Seven Psychopaths, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and a mortician with swordplay skills named Zelda (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Avengers: Endgame).
The first sin of this zombie comedy is boredom, and it is visited upon the audience rather quickly. I never would have thought a zombie film with this impressive cast could bore, but it did. Director and screenwriter Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai) seemingly pays tribute to zombie history in film, but he does it with what feels like an ineffective laziness, never really giving his zombies any bite. His tone is never struck sharply enough to affect the viewer. It’s clear that he studied the genre, but he never delivers on any of the elements the genre requires. His knocks on the current political climate work well enough, from the Make America White Again hat worn by Farmer Frank (Steve Buscemi, Fargo, TV’s Miracle Workers) to the claims of Fake News on the television concerning the cause of the rising dead.
As I said before, most of the cast listlessly moves through the film with deadpan wit. Some of the jokes work, but most do not, and the way the film is written, with Driver and Murray aware that they are in a film, is neither executed fully nor elaborated beyond three lines of jarringly useless dialogue. If that had been the full conceit, that some of the actors knew they were in a zombie film and understood the rules, that would be one thing, but it is never elaborated on enough to really mean anything. In fact, the characters would behave no differently in the film if I had replaced the zombie problem with something like one of them forgetting to turn off the oven at home.
The Dead Don’t Die has moments of greatness, but they are few and far-between. The cast is wasted on a subpar script and an attitude that shows no real love for the genre. Boring is a tough thing to achieve when you have creatures eating human flesh, and it that was the goal, it was met.
-Kyle A. Goethe