It's zombies vs. the privileged few, and you'll pull for the `Dead'

Movie Review

June 24, 2005|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

We don't negotiate with terrorists!"

These are the words of the villain Kaufman, played by Dennis Hopper, in George A. Romero's Land of the Dead. He's a capitalist-fascist who protects the richest of the rich in a high-rise city tower in a world gone to the zombies.

And what do we make of such lines here in Movie Analogies 101, class?

Knowing what we do about Romero's movies - that Night of the Living Dead was a Vietnam-America allegory, that Dawn of the Dead was a ghoulish satire of consumerism - well, we might just think Land of the Dead is about George W. Bush's Patriot Act America.

Romero may have lost something off his scare-us-and-gross-us-out fastball. But he's still sending messages. Or trying to.

Years after the graveyards emptied, the living have huddled into their citadels, with the fat cats tucked into gated towers within them, immune to the human catastrophe outside. The Living Dead - zombies risen from the grave, eating human flesh - are freak-show attractions, "stenchies" they're called, hung up for target practice, hated and underestimated.

But the Dead are forming their own union.

So this time, we're rooting for them?

That's the easy choice, because the living cast is pretty zombified itself. Simon Baker doesn't show us much as the commando who starts to develop sympathy for the flesh-eating freaks who stalk him and his team of grocery-store looters. Riding around in their impregnable semi, they hit the small towns where the dead first returned to "life" and empty out the supermarkets and liquor stores to supply their island city. The reckless Cholo, played by John Leguizamo as ham on the hoof, is making his own separate deals with Kaufman.

Meanwhile, the Dead are learning. And once they figure out how to work those automatic weapon thingies, or learn that zombies don't need to hold their breath underwater ... well, no man is an island.

It's pretty hard to work up much of a fright over the grisly sight of extras in heavy makeup gnawing on what look like brains, intestines and femurs. Shaun of the Dead spoofed that spookiness right out of us. And that Omega Man angle, the last folks on Earth huddled to survive and procreate? 28 Days Later got to it two years ago.

The metaphor - a society that doesn't recognize the evil it is doing may be getting its comeuppance - would have been a cool subtext in a better movie. But this Dead doesn't jolt, shock, scare or amuse. It just staggers along - very slowly.

With too many dinner breaks.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Land of the Dead

Starring Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo

Directed by George A. Romero

Released by Universal Pictures

Rated R (violence and gore, language, brief sexuality and some drug use)

Time 94 minutes

SUN SCORE * 1/2 (1 1/2 STARS)

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