Let’s be clear here: You’ll either love this movie for all its cleverness (because you’re that savvy zombie genre fan – especially for Romero – and geeks out at inside references), or you’ll be like the rest of us – a little bored and cheated.
To say The Dead Don’t Die is indulgent is about 70% right. The only 30%? Only Jarmusch will know. This movie doesn’t follow any rules and usually when that happens, it signals a deep intent. Either that, or it’s just plain all out to have fun. I mean it has to be one or the other right?
Here, because the jokes don’t exactly land as they should, some must think it’s so incredibly clever that they don’t get it… and laugh anyway. At least from the way the person in front of me was overcompensating with his overly generous chortles, it sure seems so. Others who recognise the references but didn’t find it particularly rib-tickling, probably attempted an awkward chuckle.
Bill Murray and Adam Driver play cops in the small town of Centerville, doing their daily bit to the locals with their patrols. But large-scale polar fracking by commercial giants have tilted the earth off-axis, and the unnatural occurrences that ensue include the undead popping out of their graves.
The Dead Don’t Die inherits the cloak of socially-conscious entertainment from similar classics like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, or the more recent Zombieland by Ruben Fleischer. But while the others had the right dose of self-awareness and charisma, Jarmusch’s brand of deadpan and references feels out-of-touch and dated.
From a messaging standpoint, it’s superficial. Be it about wasteful materialistic pursuits, twisted Trumpism or environmental ignorance, there’s nothing here that’s not been said before. And while repetition in itself is not a sin, the representation here is about as subtle as an axe on the head.
So what about the easter eggs and cultural references? Yes, there’s enough nudge and wink moments here to fill a sorority house. But unless you are a veteran purist who has the classics on VHS (and has lived long enough in ‘merica), chances are most of them will fly by you. I admit, I’m one of them. It’s like how it is with inside jokes – the ones in on it giggle, but the rest of us are just annoyed.
The Dead Don’t Die does a disservice to the regular movie-goer. Jim Jarmusch may think his brand a legacy enough to make this into a self-gratifying vehicle, but the delivery – so full of easter eggs, meta jokes, breaking the fourth wall – go the route of rinse-and-repeat…about 20 minutes in.
So yes, that theme song bit was fresh. Swinton’s eccentricity is a lark. But notice how I have not used any of the characters’ name thus far? That’s because it’s what this movie is – a gathering of Jarmusch regular and fans (Tom Waits, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, RZA, Larry Fessenden, Carol Kane, Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez) that pulls on the skin of a role and milks their appearance for its worth. It just feels like attending a star-studded Halloween party uninvited.
The messaging is old. The execution clumsy. The cast disconnected. Jarmusch has seen sharper and funnier days in his filmography.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com