Review: “Land of the Dead”

As someone who doesn’t normally like zombie movies, last year proved a surprise with “Dawn of the Dead” and “Shaun of the Dead” – two enjoyable mainstream pictures delivering quite different but equally entertaining takes on the genre. Now, George Romero – considered the father of the zombie movie – returns to the fold some twenty years since his last sequel to deliver ‘Land’, a moderately enjoyable but rather bland piece that’s above most movies of the like but disappointingly average as an overall film.

I’ve admittedly never seen any of the earlier trilogy with the exception of the original “Dawn of the Dead”, an enjoyable if overrated flick that serves better as a satire of mass consumerism than an actual horror film. “Land” also displays Romero’s attempts to combine both your average zombie movie tale with a somewhat allegorical look at today’s society – in this case the ever increasing problems of both economic disparity and foreign relations.

However don’t expect much in the way of sharp satire here, the comedy isn’t particularly funny and attempts to skewer societal issues are so blunt as to render themselves useless rather than clever. The best kind of satire is smart, subtle, takes a stab at just the right time and in a way that not only lampoons the issue in question but offers something more to think about in regards to it. Not so here, its all so clearly spelled out to appeal to the masses that it loses any real edge or wit it may have had. Other attempts such as the film’s “don’t negotiate with terrorist” throwaway lines are such blatantly dumb and already passe swipes at the current administration that its almost insulting.

Far more interesting in “Land” is its study of the zombies themselves and their sociological changes. They’re still slow and dumb, but the interesting twist is that they’ve learned the ability to adapt and are beginning to figure out how to use technology again. These are problem solving zombies which makes for a chilling effect that helps overcome some of the cheesy walking scenes that look like outtakes from the “Thriller” music video.

The zombie make-up is pretty good too, as is the gore which is suitably gross and bloody. However the film isn’t particularly thrilling or suspenseful, there’s no real shocks let alone action to get the heart pumping until well past the halfway point. Characters ranging from Simon Baker’s relatively bland hero to Dennis Hopper doing his usual over the top baddie (albeit one with his voice under control and a nice mean edge) don’t add much to the proceedings. Asia Argento however does quite well as a hooker turned fighter, and Leguizamo gives us a decent but forgettable minor foil role.

Also going for the film is its vintage tone. There’s thankfully little in the way of MTV style cutting. The settings are deliciously dark and gritty but in a believable way. Some scenes in particular ranging from the initial excursion to the zombie targeting range are uniquely eye catching. The score is also hard hitting enough without sounding like a bad metal rock track retread.

At times the film actually does prove interesting and has more meat on the bone than most flash in the pan horror these days, but never is it truly compelling, scary, clever or funny. One admires Romero for trying to do something deeper than the recent “Dawn” remake, but at least that film delivered in spades in terms of entertainment and made a cliched genre feel like new again. “Land” on the other hand feels more like one of the old shuffling zombies that populates it – your eyes are glued with interest but it barely has a leg to stand on.