Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Needs brains

I don't know a lot about zombie films, but Night of the Living Dead is much funnier than Shaun of the Dead. So is Schindler's List, for that matter.

The classic George Romero zombie film is limited to begin with (which is what made 28 Days Later such a breath of fresh air). You can run away from them (easy) or shoot them in the head (easy if you have a gun). You can also hit them with a shovel, but that yields mixed results. It's really just sort of a stalling action.

Shaun of the Dead runs into a dead end as soon as possible and just stays there. A pity, because it starts off with a clever visual-satirical note as we see typical Londoners on their way to work, looking as if they had already become zombies. The point is made lightly, but it is never built upon, or even returned to. The film briefly enjoys the talents of Bill Nighy, but he dies too soon to save the film, and soon it devolves into a bunch of people screaming at each other about what they should do next. The English seem to think this is funny. It started back with Genevieve in 1953, which is celebrated as one of those little British gems of the 50s, but in fact is mind-numbingly tedious, since it consists almost entire of squabbling.

I'll give you that an argument can be funny. It can be a witty argument, or even stupid, as in the Monty Python "Argument Clinic" sketch. But when it is circular, with everyone talking at cross-purposes, not responding to each other but shouting endlessly past each other--well, it's no fun in real life and it's worse to find it in an entertainment.

I sought out the film because I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of Zombieland so much. But the humans in Zombieland are smart and competent and confident, and their mistakes are interesting and surprising, and their methods of overcoming the mistakes ingenious and witty in their own way. The characters in Shaun are yobbos from start to finish, never clever and never funny. It is the product of the over-elevation of the sketch comedy group which has been the plague of comedy in this decade, in which 7-minute ideas are played out for 102 minutes.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

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