The Dead Don’t Die

I’m hit-and-miss with Jim Jarmusch movies. When he tackled vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive — I was thrilled to see Tilda Swinton in the lead role, but it was dreadfully boring. Since I don’t care about zombies, finding out Jarmusch was tackling them this time out, didn’t thrill me. The cast of the movie did, though. And my wife loves zombies, so we were excited to see this.

It’s hard for people to pull off zombie flicks that are comedians. Shaun of the Dead pulled it off in spades. Zombieland (also with Bill Murray), kind of pulled it off. But this…even with Jim Jarmusch, who can write some witty and hip dialogue…didn’t. It was awfully boring, despite Tilda Swinton, who was looking less like Conan O’Brien and more like Johnny and Edgar Winter. She has a few good moments, but not as many as I would’ve liked.

The movie started out promisingly with Tom Waits as a homeless hermit, and Bill Murray as a small-town sheriff questioning him about a farmer’s missing chicken. Murray and Adam Driver trade deadpan delivery so often though, this became the deadpan don’t die! You can’t have more than one character be the straight man. It worked for Flight of the Conchords, but it usually doesn’t.  

Chloe Sevigny is the third officer that works with these two, and she was wasted in this part and not given a lot to do.

Jarmusch wanted to throw some goofy environmentalism at us, so the fracking around the world has caused the Earth to shift off its axis, or something like that. That means daylight lasts a lot longer and dead people come back to life.

It was fun seeing one of the first zombies portrayed by Iggy Pop (who looks like a zombie even without make-up). He obviously didn’t get enough coffee in Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, because he doesn’t just disemboweled a waitress at a greasy spoon, he goes for the coffee pot.

As more of the dead rise, my wife said, “These are like the exact opposite of the World War Z zombies. Those zombies were fast. These are…the slowest zombies I’ve ever seen.”

The town also didn’t seem to worried about them, either. It was all so baffling as to what Jarmusch was trying to accomplish. Did he just want to make a dark comedy? If so, it didn’t have nearly enough humor. Watching Driver and Murray listen to a country western song (The Dead Don’t Die), and when Murray says the song sounds familiar and Driver tells him, “That’s because it’s our song. The theme song of this movie,” you just roll your eyes (that won’t be the only time they break the 4th wall).

They break it again when we see Driver’s character has a Star Wars keychain. And, that made me wonder when they’d ask Bill Murray if it was tougher fighting ghosts than zombies.

It was a bit more interesting when they talk about George Romero, especially with the snazzy old car Selena Gomez was driving with her two male friends (Luka Sabbat, Austin Butler). They’re a trio of “hipsters” from Cleveland. None of those characters have anything interesting to say, but it was nice to see that when they stop a gas station that’s also a memorabilia shop, it’s run by Caleb Landry Jones, an interesting and quirky character actor (Three Billboards, Get Out, American Made).

He sports a Nosferatu T-shirt and knows a lot about comic books. He’s the resident genre scholar. He and Driver seem to know that the only way to stop zombies is to “kill the head.” Yet, once the zombies start (slowly) attacking, they don’t seem to do a lot of fighting back. They just meander around.

Tilda Swinton is one of the most interesting actresses working today, and Jarmusch capitalized on her bizarre mystic vibe. She practices with a samurai sword in front of a huge Buddha, in the backroom of a morgue. She’s got her Scottish accent working, a funky walk, and asks bizarre questions of the people in town because she’s “gathering data.”

The stupidest character was the farmer played by the always welcome Steve Buscemi. He wears a red cap that says “Make America White Again” and has a dog named Rumsfeld. That’s just so utterly stupid, as nobody would wear a hat like that, least of all a person that chats up Danny Glover’s character at a greasy spoon.

There’s an awful lot of self-referential BS, which is becoming an increasingly tired Jarmusch trait. At least Jarmusch gave us some cool black dust, instead of blood, each time a limb was chopped off a zombie.

Driver continually says, “This is going to end badly.” And I figured he was probably right, so…I didn’t even bother to stick around for the ending. I left when it had about 15 minutes left to go. [I found out they broke the 4th wall yet again, riffing on how it was going to end badly.]

My wife was equally bored, so we split. I felt like zombies must’ve eaten Jarmusch’s brain before he wrote this drivel.

Aside from a few good lines, and beautiful cinematography by Frederick Elmes…there’s nothing for anybody here.

This reminds me of when Adam Sandler makes those Grown-Up movies. He gets all his friends together, and they probably have a blast making the movies, but they just don’t have that many jokes that work. So, JJ gets a lot of actors and musicians he’s worked with before and it’s the same result. Critics aren’t afraid to bash Sandler movies, yet they lap up anything this hip filmmaker does. Don’t be fooled by the good reviews this will probably get. The movie doesn’t have any scares, and hardly any jokes.

I’ll give it one star for a groovy, twangy score by SQURL (Jarmusch and Chris Logan), as well as having the balls to cast Rosie Perez as a newscaster,  and casting the fun Carole Kane (who last teamed with Bill Murray in Scrooged). It was also amusing that they only gave her one line: chardonnay.   

1 star out of 5.


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