Land Of The Dead
More moaning and shuffling than an orgy at a poker tournament. Outstanding fun.
Mwuuuuh. Mwuuuuuuuuuuuuh. Reckon I'd make a good zombie you know. There's a lot to be said for shambling around in a haze, mindlessly attacking unwary passers-by. Hell, it's practically what I get paid for in my day job, and I wouldn't even have to bother doing my hair all nice and fancy every morning. Mwuuuuuuuuh... Actually, scrap that. As it happens, shambling zombies are old and busted. If George Romero, father of the zombie genre has anything to do with it then organised shambling flesh eaters are the new hotness, and Land Of The Dead, fourth instalment in his genre-defining saga of animated flesh and bones, is the unveiling of his winter collection. Set in the present day, Land continues the evolutionary tale started by Night Of The Living Dead way back in 1968, mankind now barricaded inside the remaining few cities as the undead hordes gather outside for their final assault. Supplies are kept maintained by dangerous night raids out into the wilderness, a team of such marauders being lead by the increasingly weary Riley (Simon Baker). A veteran of mankind's campaign for survival, Riley has his sights set on an escape bid out into the uninhabited country where he hopes to live in relative peace and quiet with his merry band of close comrades.
Of course his "one last job" supply sortie has to have a spanner thrown in the works; in this case provided by second in command Cholo (John Leguizamo). Your average off-the-shelf blue flame special, Cholo is a hot-headed, trigger happy tyke with designs on buying his way into the affluent, comfortable fortress city operated by Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) for whom he runs assorted nefarious operations. When Cholo takes exception to Kaufman backtracking on his deal for sanctuary he steals the powerful Dead Reckoning; an armoured zombie-blasting truck carrying a powerful artillery which he plans to use against Kaufman in an act of vengeance. It's here that Riley has his plans for retirement scuppered as Kaufman tasks him with returning the tank and eliminating the increasingly unstable Cholo. Necessitating the evasion of several gazillion undead assailants, Riley's mission would appear set to deliver quite the splatter-fest, and do you know what? It does exactly what it says on the tin.
Now, zombie flicks are becoming quite the trendy commodity, and while in past years much scorn has been poured over the seemingly simplistic and, arguably, childish antics of Romero's films, a number of u-turns have been made as critics see his tales less as accurately aimed buckets of gore and more as important if simplistic social commentaries. Land is no exception, with an immediate parallel being obvious between Kaufman's big business interests amongst insurgent zombie hordes and our current situation in Allied-occupied Iraq. Never one for the subtle approach, Romero doesn't so much hint at his moral as smack it in your face with the wet end of a severed limb. "We don't deal with terrorists!" bellows Kaufman as his associates contemplate reaching a deal with Cholo, while outside his hi-tech private military force is rather primitively disassembled by equally primitive assailants. Oooooh, you could almost taste the anti-American sentiment if it weren't for your own lungs being wretched up your throat by the long arm of the director's effects fetish. And of course that's the real point, isn't it? For all it's worthy posturing what we've really come to see is gore, so does Land offer enough disembowelment for your buck? Oh, good god yes it does.
Given it's certificate, Land arguably vectors more gore toward the audience than the more strictly rated remake of Dawn Of The Dead, a film that already provided plenty of internal organs on the wrong side of the human body. Fans will doubtless be pleased by the severity of punishment dealt to both sides of the conflict, and while things are not so graphic as to dislodge your breakfast (the one instance of a victim being torn in half is actually way more subtle, if that's the word, than Day Of The Dead's show-stopper) there are still moments of all-out warfare that more closely resemble Saving Private Ryan. Amidst the shattered skulls and exploded stomachs however it's the evolution of his beloved creatures that Romero would most like you to remember. Lead by shuffling garage mechanic Big Daddy (Eugene Clark; he may be a zombie, but he still puts every Kwik Fit employee I've encountered to shame), Riley is the first to note that the encroaching hordes are becoming organised, apparently attempting to live out their past lives through undead instinct and forging to reclaim the cities they once legitimately occupied as residents.
It certainly makes for an interesting concept, and while these may not be the "new breed" of athletic, ferocious undead as envisaged by the likes of Danny Boyle in his 28 Days Later, Big Daddy's gang make for a much more interesting and, amazingly, sympathetic bunch. As the parallels with current military affairs become more obvious there is potency to be found in an unusual degree of empathy between audience and shuffling hordes, and by the time Riley's battle is fought you'll more than likely find yourself feeling quite delighted for the away team, a fact efficiently compounded by almost all the human antagonists being complete shits. Romero's treatment of his living characters is less than involving, and whether or not this is intentional I cannot honestly say. Leguizamo is reliably engaging as the mercenary Cholo, but Baker and sidekick Asia "daughter of Dario" Argento as the feisty hooker Slack have their work cut out to draw any sympathy from the crowd; a task indeed when you're being matched emotionally by someone whose lines consist entirely of grunts and snarls.
At a little over an hour and a half Land Of The Dead fairly zips by, barely leaving the audience time to breathe between flesh-ripping action set pieces. There remains a startling four minutes of footage destined for an "unrated" DVD release removed from the cinema prints to avoid an NC-17 rating in the States. Quite where this was chopped from I find hard to comprehend, but it'll certainly be interesting to see how much more brutal Land can actually be and whether this footage detracts from or adds to the impact of the movie as a whole. As it stands, however, this easily equals the Dawn Of The Dead remake for entertainment, and provides just as blunt and effective a diatribe against US foreign policy as Romero could surely hope for. The world is full of guilty pleasures, but this summer your local cinema has been noticeably bereft of them. If you've been holding out hope like I have then Land Of The Dead may just be the film for you, provided you can hold down that hot dog. Sick bags, as always, are optional.
I award this movie 4 out of 5 Units We Use
John Leguizamo (Cholo)
Asia Argento (Slack)
Dennis Hopper (Kaufman)