`Shaun of the Dead' enlivens the zombie genre

September 24, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

With some people, if the living dead took them over, you'd be hard pressed to tell.

That's the premise of Shaun of the Dead, a self-proclaimed "romantic comedy with zombies" that finds considerable humor in populating a film about the undead with slackers who spend the majority of their days oblivious to the world around them.

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a chronic underachiever, a drone in a neighborhood appliance store who goes through life by turns frustrated, flummoxed and resigned to his fate. Helping matters not a whit is his effort-averse best bud, Ed (Nick Frost), who has turned avoiding work and responsibility into an art form. And then there's Shaun's girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who loves him but is fed up with his fecklessness and unwillingness to change.

All this has conspired to make for Shaun a very bad day, one during which his gaze is constantly cast down, wallowing as he is in rampant self-pity. Perhaps that's a good thing, however, for if he looked up, he'd probably not like what he'd see: London has been invaded by the undead, who are gluttonously feasting on the living and making things generally unpleasant.

Shaun of the Dead is hilarious for about half its length, as the camera stays focused on Shaun's comings and goings, and it's only if one pays attention to the out-of-focus backgrounds that one notices the flesh being eaten, the decaying bodies staggering down the street, the bloody handprints that suggest something profoundly untoward is going on.

The movie loses direction a little once Shaun and Ed become aware of what's going on and are forced to become England's unlikeliest heroes (although their initial efforts to do away with the undead, involving the projectile use of used LPs, are inspired).

As their plight worsens, writers Pegg and Edgar Wright (the latter also directed) hew more closely to conventions of the zombie movie, with mixed results.

Still, Shaun of the Dead offers a welcome riff on a well-worn horror standard. And there's the romantic comedy part, as Shaun's willingness to take on the zombies transforms him in Liz's eyes -- a surprisingly sweet development that succeeds on the strength of Ashfield's resiliently alluring screen presence and Pegg's ability to turn even heroism into a punch line.

Shaun of the Dead

Starring Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost

Directed and co-written by Edgar Wright

Rated R (zombie violence/gore, language)

Released by Rogue Pictures

Time 99 minutes

Sun Score ***

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