Indie film auteur Jim Jarmusch returns to theaters with a star-studded zombie apocalypse. The Dead Don’t Die is a horror comedy that satirizes the genre, unbridled capitalism, and Donald Trump supporters. The cast of Jarmusch regulars and younger newbies also poke fun of themselves. The characters acknowledge they’re in a zombie movie in continuous deadpan dialogue. There are bits of sharp humor, but the pacing is dreadfully slow. I can appreciate the film’s message, but it needed to be far more engaging.
The Dead Don’t Die takes place in the bucolic small town of Centerville. Bill Murray stars as Cliff, the Chief of Police. He and his deputy, Ronnie (Adam Driver), notice bizarre occurrences on their usual patrol. Cell phones and watches have stopped working. The sun has lingered far beyond sunset. At the local diner, Hank (Danny Glover) and the racist Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) wonder where the animals have vanished.
Meanwhile, a half-Mexican hipster (Selena Gomez) and her pals decide to stop in Centerville. The gas station clerk/movie buff (Caleb Landry Jones) warns them something strange is going down. Back at the police station, Officer Minerva Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) gets an update from the local news anchor (Rosie Perez). Scientists are blaming “polar fracking” for the strange events, but the big energy companies are vigorously against this theory. After all, can you really trust science?
The Dead Don’t Die takes a long time to develop, and goes in an unexpected direction. Normally this would be interesting, but that’s not what happens here. The characters are too aloof. They spend the majority of the film laying down dry political barbs, then meander from scene to scene. When the zombie carnage is finally unleashed, it feels boring and anticlimactic. The zombies are used as a metaphor for the state of humanity. Jim Jarmusch gets clever points for the philosophical aspects of his script, but the overall film is so tedious. The hour and forty minute runtime feels much longer.
Bill Murray has been a Jim Jarmusch featured player for decades. Their collaborations are usually funny and offbeat. The Dead Don’t Die doesn’t have the intrigue of Coffee and Cigarettes or Broken Flowers. Murray is too laconic in this role. He’s more of the straight man to Adam Driver’s character. It’s a muted performance that feels restrained for his iconic style.
The Dead Don’t Die struggles to entertain, but does have a few comic gems. Tilda Swinton and Tom Waits, also Jarmusch favorites, add the quirk factor. If only they had more screen time. I did also enjoy the sight gags. Steve Buscemi’s racist farmer getup is sure to arouse the ire of Trump fans. That’s a group constantly needled throughout the film. The goofy “polar fracking” scare is juxtaposed by the deputy cops, who drive a Prius and smart car. Adam Driver tooling around in a mini two-seater has to get a few laughs.
The Dead Don’t Die is a weaker entry from a great writer and director. Jim Jarmusch is usually a sure bet, but I guess they can’t all be winners. The mocking of the zombie theme gets old quickly. The political satire is humorous at times, but not enough to carry a slow moving film. There’s just not enough entertainment value. The Dead Don’t Die is produced by Animal Kingdom and distributed by Focus Features.
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