Shaun of the Dead
Although it has a promising premise, the British zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead isn't as funny as it's purporting to be. While the laffer does make some clever commentaries on people's apathetic existence, it drifts from genre to genre like the undead shuffle from prey to prey.
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an ambitionless electronics salesman whose idea of grabbing life by the throat is chugging beer at the local pub, the Winchester. After three years, Shaun's ennui starts to grate on his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), who presents the 29-year-old slacker with an ultimatum: Set some goals or get ready for the single life. Of course, it isn't long before Liz dumps lazybones Shaun, who drowns his sorrows in a pint of cold ale at--where else? The Winchester, of course, along with his out-of-shape and equally lethargic buddy Ed (Nick Frost). What Shaun and Ed are too wasted to realize, however, is that the good people of London are turning into zombies all around them. When Shaun is almost bitten by a strange pale lady lurking in his garden, he realizes something's up--namely, that the dead have risen and are feasting on the living. A newly-inspired Shaun springs into action and comes up with the perfect plan to thwart the undead. With the help of Ed, he rounds up Liz, her roommates, his mom and stepfather and takes them to his idea of a safe haven: The Winchester!
As Shaun, Pegg, who had a small roles in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and the comedy 24 Hour Party People, is quite endearing. Although he's shiftless, Shaun is someone everyone can relate to--stuck in a comfort zone with no plan to change in his life. But Pegg brings some complexity to the character, giving Shaun a sympathetic edge. Of course, the film tends to overplay the sympathy card, complete with shots of Shaun's fake tears after he splits with Liz. But in the end, Shaun is not the lazy loser Liz and her friends all thought he was--just an easy-going guy who enjoys the simpler things in life. Ashfield, who has starred in several British feature films, is also impressive as Shaun's disapproving girlfriend. The on-screen chemistry between the two stars is surprisingly sweet and almost too down to earth for a parody; sure, it's silly at times but incredibly believable. Frost, meanwhile, nails the sidekick role of Ed--a character you'll first despise but eventually grow to almost love.
In vein of his 1995 spaghetti Western spoof A Fistful of Fingers, writer/director Edgar Wright uses his parodying skills once again for his second feature Shaun of the Dead--this time lampooning George Romero's 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Like Romero, whose zombie films take a satirical look at American counterculture of the late 60s, Wright's Shaun takes aim at the dreadful idleness plaguing the underachieving Gen-Xers. The film's first 30 minutes are undoubtedly its best, as Shaun and other young Londoners mechanically go through the motions of life without ever taking the time to smell the proverbial roses; they schlep to work, traipse to the pub and slump into bed, never fully appreciating their lives. While anticipating the imminent onslaught of zombies, Wright takes pleasure in blurring the lines between the undead and the just plain lethargic. But the film loses its focus once Shaun's character takes a heroic turn, and we are forced to endure several poignant moments with his mom and stepdad. Remember, Shaun is suppose to be a zombie satire, not a Lifetime movie of the week.
Shaun of the Dead lumbers from parody to drama to B movie to comedy. The lack of stick-to-itiveness sucks the life right out of this zombie comedy.