Without a doubt, zombies are the prime pop culture metaphor of our age, distilling the idea of a population zapped out on consumerism down to deadeyed cannibalism. Jim Jarmusch’s comedy is clearly in on the joke and while portions zip by with the kind of laid-back frisson he’s famous for, the theme is way too obvious. In the end, there’s something cheap about Jarmusch’s ambitions for the film.
The story is set in the fictional small town of Centerville, the kind of place that naturally doesn’t catch on that the world is coming to an end until it actually comes to an end. The usual small town conflicts are intensified to their deadliest dimensions once the zombie apocalypse reveals itself in the town, though it takes a while for the sleepy inhabitants to figure that out. At the center is the cop team of Cliff (Bill Murray) and Ronnie (Adam Driver), whose generational divide is played up for all its worth, and for once, it’s the younger guy who seems better equipped in the worldly wisdom department. Eventually, we learn through several sources that the earth’s rotational spin has been compromised by “polar fracking,” thus bringing back to life almost everyone who has died recently. As the trailer indicates, this expansive plot idea allows Jarmusch to call up every favor any Hollywood actor or indie musician has ever owed him, and at times you wonder if the script was simply a scrawl of marginalia fit for a 1950s biblical epic, only that the epic vision is that of Kevin Smith.
But the overcaffeinated casting has the cumulative effect of making whatever points Jarmusch raises about the environment or the seeming nihilism of today’s youth or the aforementioned numbing of culture (the zombies stagger around muttering brand names as if in search of them) incoherent, especially when you have folks like Iggy Pop and Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny and Tom Waits munching desultorily on human flesh. This breed of undead, true to the Jarmusch aesthetic, are rather casual with their appetites. In the end, the novelty factor overwhelms everything, including some witty dialogue and a great theme song by Sturgill Simpson. Jarmusch was once the master of the minimal. Here he’s just maxed out.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
The Dead Don’t Die home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2019 Image Eleven Productions, Inc.