“The Dead Don’t Die” indeed has the greatest zombie cast ever assembled. Seriously, just look at that poster below. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the best zombie screenplay ever written, or the best direction ever seen in a zombie film. This would-be classic was a surprisingly average viewing experience; I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.
I almost feel guilty for feeling so unenthusiastic, because I like so many of these actors so much. Bill Murray and Adam Driver actually are quite funny as the movie’s two torpid police officers; Chloe Sevigny makes them even funnier as their panicked straight man. And the addition of Tilda Swinton’s zany Scottish samurai undertaker makes them the perfect comedic quartet. (I think this is the first time I’ve seen Sevigny in a movie, as she mostly does arthouse films — including 2003’s ignominiously reviled “The Brown Bunny.” And I had no idea that Driver was this talented, given his milquetoast turn as a villain in the most recent spate of “Star Wars” films.) I honestly would love to see the four of these characters battle apocalyptic threats in a series of comedies — aliens, vampires, killer robots from the future … whatever.
Other big names shine here as well. Tom Waits and Caleb Landry Jones are both surprisingly funny, delivering little bouts of quirky, laconic, character-driven dialogue in a film that seems intended as mashup between “Cannery Row” (1982) and the first two “Return of the Living Dead” films (1985, 1988). (I first saw Jones as the creepy kid in 2010’s “The Last Exorcism;” I suspect that more of my friends will recognize him as Banshee from 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”)
The problem is this — although many of the characters are engaging, they populate a subdued, disconnected movie that is frequently quite slow. Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s heart is in the right place — assembling this oddball ensemble cast for the mashup I mentioned above is actually a terrific idea. But “The Dead Don’t Die” ultimately lacks punch, and even a tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy needs a minimum of tension. The movie is a bit too lethargic to become the truly great film that the trailer led us to hope for.
Complicating matters is the fact that that several groups of characters follow story arcs that go nowhere — sometimes literally. (Where did the kids from the juvenile detention center run off to? Why were they included at all? Not much happens to them and they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.) This movie often felt like a number of comedy skits stitched together — some were admittedly quite funny, but they didn’t add up to a cohesive story.
Oh, well. It’s possible that you will like “The Dead Don’t Die” much more than I did. I might be the wrong audience for this, as I’ve never cared much for horror-comedies. (The aforementioned “Return of the Living Dead” films are on the short list of those that I like.) Your mileage may vary.