- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

Plenty of filmmakers have been mucking around in the graveyard George A. Romero dug up with 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead.”

So the shock auteur has not only his own legend to live up to in “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead,” but also that of films like 2003’s “28 Days Later” and last year’s hilarious “Shaun of the Dead.”

Mr. Romero clearly wants to reclaim his throne — even if it’s covered with ooze and slime.

He only manages it in fits and starts.

The Pittsburgh-based filmmaker, shooting in Toronto for a change, stages enough mayhem to please genre fans but doesn’t bring much new to his pulp mythology.

Mr. Romero, ever the social commentator, dishes some obvious thoughts regarding cultural divides and how the powerful use fear as a cudgel against the weak.

Yet even a second-rate Romero feature can send shivers up our spines.

“Land” opens with the world all but conquered by the “walkers,” the undead that plagued the director’s zombie trilogy — “Night of the Living Dead,” 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead” and 1985’s “Day of the Dead.”

The few survivors live within the walls of Fiddler’s Green, a reconstituted city where the rich still live facsimiles of their old lives and the poor battle for scraps.

The city’s leader, a blue blood named Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) hires mercenaries to bring supplies left behind in the old world back into the city.

The group, led by Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo), uses a tanklike vehicle dubbed Dead Reckoning for the missions, but Cholo steals the wheels after Kaufman refuses him entrance into the city’s elite club.

Now it’s up to Riley to bring back the renegade Cholo — and neither is aware that the living dead are learning to communicate and have figured out a way into the fortified city.

The education of the dead is the sole novelty trotted out here, and it’s one whose potential is never fully tapped. The zombie leader, a brute played by Eugene Clark, commands his legions with a series of grunts, but his army’s evolution rarely intensifies the horror. Besides, when the remaining humans are this petty, self-absorbed and ill-prepared, the zombies don’t need much brainpower to find their next meal.

Credit Mr. Romero for not turning Kaufman into a President Bush clone, but Mr. Hopper underplays his character’s wicked ways. The remaining cast members fare better, particularly Asia Argento (horror director Dario Argento’s daughter), who looks like a younger, more vulnerable Courtney Love.

Plenty will be read into “Dead’s” parallels between the zombies and modern-day terrorists, but genre purists will walk away giddy with the creative disembowelments and a cameo by horror makeup legend Tom Savini.

Mr. Romero, freed from his usual budgetary restraints, lets director of photography Miroslaw Baszak light the fictional city as if it were a nightmarish swirl of death and decay.

Mr. Romero essentially owes his career to zombies, and at times “Land of the Dead” feels genuinely sorry for the flesh eaters. Toward the film’s end, our hero decides not to fire on a zombie cluster, telling his comrades that they’re just looking for a place to go, like us.

That Mr. Romero could inject some moral equivalence between humans and flesh-eating zombies is the scariest part of this “Land.”


TITLE: “George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead”

RATING: R (Copious amounts of blood and gore, disturbing imagery and harsh language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by George A. Romero. Costume design by Alex Kavanaugh. Music by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek.

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.landofthedeadmovie.net


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