Movie Review: “The Dead Don’t Die”

Ah, the zombie film. At this point, they’re a dime a dozen. They have to different in order to shine through.  They have to be unique.  They have to have a way of separating themselves out from the pack.

Frankly, I think at t his moment reviews about zombie movies have to be somewhat different as well and that is why what follows is a warts-and-all stream of consciousness look at Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die.”

Adam Driver and I used to not get along.  I don’t mean that in a personal way at all, I’ve never met the man I don’t think, I just mean I didn’t always enjoy his on-screen presence.  That, however, has changed through the years and I think that’s probably more me than him.  In “The Dead Don’t Die,” Driver continues to win me over.  He’s hysterically funny and him doing deadpan line readings opposite Bill Murray doing deadpan line readings is tremendous. If the whole movie was just these two guys in their police officer roles sitting in a car saying weird things to each other, it might be one of the greatest movies ever created.

Sadly though, it isn’t.  There are other things happening too, things like the dead coming back to life.

Rather than just sticking with a couple of main characters, Jarmusch has opted to go ensemble with this movie and consequently the story keeps flitting back and forth from one group of folks to the next to the next.  It affords Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Tom Waits, Caleb Landry Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Carol Kane, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, and the rest of the cast the opportunity to be off the wall funny, but less time for delving into characters.  And, I’m pretty sure that there’s one plotline that just kind of ceases to exist as the movie reaches its conclusion.  It is kind of an irrelevant one, but if it’s included it has to be included.

Unlike so many other zombie films, rather than just going for brains here, as the trailer notes, the zombies are attracted to the things that attracted them in real life.  So, they want coffee or chardonnay or to play tennis or to walk around with their cell phones.  It is a comment on consumerism, and it’s fine as such—not as good as “Dawn of the Dead,” but fine—right up until the movie tells you that it’s a comment on consumerism, at which point it goes too far.  After all, there’s a difference between making a movie about mindless zombies and making a movie for mindless zombies.

It must be noted that Swinton is uproariously funny in the movie.  Her character, an undertaker who is new in town, is one of the best things on offer.  There’s a preciseness to Swinton’s movements and line readings which cause chuckles no matter what’s she saying or doing.

Sevigny, sadly, is relegated to a more mundane and more stereotypical part which has her character, also a police deputy, be overly terrified and less capable of action.  There are a number of scenes in which the men have to allay her fears, and even if it’s a knowing comment on the stereotypes of zombie movies, it comes off as disappointing.

Despite its failures, however, I keep coming back to the good and that’s the police chief (Murray) and officer (Driver) sitting around and talking, particularly in the moments when they break the fourth wall.  That’s always a tricky proposition, but I think Jarmusch nails it.

And so, I think we’ve come roughly to the end of this particular stream of consciousness review. I hope that it comes off better than one of the mindless, guts-eating, horde that Jarmusch has put up on the screen. The gore there is undeniably wonderful, but I’d rather my article exhibit some sense of intelligence.

“The Dead Don’t Die” isn’t perfect, but it’s funny and at times smart and generally enjoyable. I’m pro.


photo credit: Focus Features


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