Main cast: Simon Baker (Riley Denbo), John Leguizamo (Cholo DeMora), Asia Argento (Slack), Robert Joy (Charlie Houk), Eugene Clark (Big Daddy Zombie), and Dennis Hopper (Paul Kaufman)
Director: George A Romero
Ooh, Simon Baker is so pretty in this one. Seriously, I can just play this one on my TV and leave it in the background, so that I can look at it now and then to admire his face. Strangely enough, the zombies here aren’t too ugly, so his pretty is strong in this one. There is also a nice scene with a shirtless John Leguizamo.
Land of the Dead is more about making statements than actually telling a coherent zombie movie. The premise alone is a head-scratcher. It’s sometime in the future, and the zombie apocalypse is here. In this landscape arrives millionaire Paul Kaufman, who managed to use his money to hire construction workers and such to transform a Pennsylvanian town into his personal kingdom. Electric fences surround the place, and the perimeters are patrolled by people with machine guns. The rich people live in a luxurious high-rise skyscraper complex called Fiddler’s Green, while everyone else scrape on the streets. Oh, and armed teams led by Riley Denbo and his second-in-command Cholo DeMora make night raids to salvage medicines and other necessities.
The premise collapses if you think about it. How can such an ecosystem like Fiddler’s Green be self-sustaining? There are limited goods, and yet nothing seems to be in short supply. Where did all the electricity come from? The water? The fuels for all those vehicles? It would also be impossible to provide food for everyone here through scavenging alone, and there is no evidence that agriculture is taking place in Fiddler’s Green. So how does the whole ecosystem last for this long?
Anyway, the story. Early on, it’s clear that Riley and Cholo are different: Riley, while not exactly a nice guy, abides by his own code of honor and cares for his fellow folks on the streets while Cholo is more concerned with cozying up with Kaufman in hope of getting his own apartment in Fiddler’s Green. Cholo also doesn’t care for the well-being of the others under his command – he’s more interested in scavenging alcohol and other goods that he can either offer to Kaufman or sell on the streets.
When the movie opens, Riley wants to retire. Yes, and we all know what happens to people who want to retire – they get to be heroes in a movie. And that’s what he is forced to be, when Cholo and his team run off with Dead Reckoning, an armored vehicle created by Riley for those nightly scavenging trips out there. Cholo is angry that Kaufman will still deny him a place in Fiddler’s Green on the account of his lack of pedigree, so now he demands a lot of money from that man. If Kaufman doesn’t pay, he’d start shelling Fiddler’s Green. Kaufman charges Riley to retrieve that vehicle, and our hero sees an opportunity to bargain for the vehicle in exchange for completing the task. Riley, you see, wants to leave for places where he is free, rather than being trapped in a place like Fiddler’s Green. Riley brings his loyal buddy Charlie and Slack (a prostitute that he and Charlie saved from zombies) along, while Kaufman insists on sending three of his people along too.
Meanwhile, the zombies are slowly becoming smarter, and one of them, a literal scary black man credited as Big Daddy Zombie in the end credits, ends up leading a big pack of zombies to lay siege on Fiddler’s Green. Riley and his buddies are going to be caught in the middle…
There are some good things in the premise and the plot, but at the end of the day, this is a bizarre movie in which people are arguing about who gets the money. Who gets the money… in a world infested with zombies. What the hell is Cholo going to do with the money? Is there anywhere he can spend it on? The whole thing is so stupid. The characters in this movie also behave stupidly too. We have so-called trained personnels emptying an entire machine gun of bullets into one single zombie – I’d think they’d be more careful when it comes to waste in such times. No wonder they all get mowed and chowed down in the end – they can be too dumb to live.
Additionally, the conversations in this movie are also cringe-worthy. George A Romero, who also wrote the script, veers around like a drunken sod who can’t remember what he did just a few minutes ago. Hence, Riley would insist that Slack should tell her story, only to bark a few minutes later that he doesn’t care about people’s stories. The main characters attempt to drop one-liners during tense moments – one-liners that bomb spectacularly due to how awkward and stilted they often are. Asia Argento, not exactly a versatile actress, only makes her wooden lines even worse with her stilted delivery and acting. Some of the bit players playing extras are even worse – they are so zombie-like that I wonder whether this movie is trying to get all meta on me. Nah, it’s nowhere smart enough to think of that, much less pull it off.
The shame of it all is that Land of the Dead sacrifices coherent storytelling for delivery of messages that are not exactly deep. This movie wants to make statements about class inequalities, oppression of the poor, the complacency of civilization, and such, but everything just feels hammy and unnecessarily overwrought. When it is not saying anything new or profound, and it is not even telling a halfway decent story, this one is a waste of my time as well as a waste of the pretty male leads. If only this one had been, say, a sci-fi movie rather than a zombie movie, it’d probably make more sense and maybe even be a much better movie. Oh well.