Undead or Alive (2007 film) review…

Undead or Alive (2007 film) review after the break…

Undead or Alive (2007 film) review…

We always think that we live in an age of unprecedented technology. Regardless of where we are in the time line of humanity, we always have this naive notion that we are on the cusp of knowing everything, that even the most complex and seemingly impossible task can be deduced with a combination of our perseverance and our technology on hand.

Take, for example… Zombies.

We think that, today, we are fully capable of handling a zombie apocalypse. We can handle the slow shambling zombies of Romero or the modern faster, manic zombies of today’s films and video games. However, how would yesteryear’s generation handle such a dilemma? Without our technology and resources, how would a prior generation handle a scourge that we, the present generation, found so difficult to handle?

The underlying principle in watching prior generations “school” us in handling situations that our modern generation can’t resolve easily is “adaptability” and “independence.” It’s about an underlying respect for our elders that, if they had our technology and gee-wizardry, that they’d be able to whip that dilemma in no time flat and still be home in time for dinner.

“Undead or Alive” is a strange bird for this type of scenario; A slapstick comedy about zombies in the Old American West. Yup. It’s going to be that type of film.

Right from the start, this film is not subtle by interrupting a somewhat serious written introduction to inform us that we won’t need to be reading for too much longer. Anyone looking for sly humor, subtlety or a dark comedy need only to press the “stop” button on your DVD or DVR player now to avoid any further wastage of time.

Chris Kattan, an alumni of television “Saturday Night Live” fame, stars as a clueless and naive cowboy who provides the comic relief. He’s eventually teamed up with straight arrow James Denton, who looks and acts like he belongs in a real Western, when both of them are sent to the slammer. They escape from jail while the main plot simmers: Native American legend Geronimo has devised the “White Man’s Curse,” a phrase used in the film to denote zombification. A prairie family is the first to succumb to this curse and through a series of accidents and comedic pratfalls, more residents of a nearby town soon follow.

Soon, our duo is being hunted by a zombified posse but is ambushed by a charming Native American female who is a relative of Geronimo. They quickly join forces when they realize that the White Man’s Curse may become a pox for all, including their own immediate survival.

So often, off-cinema movies so rarely are shot as well as mainstream movies. Those directors use cheap digital photography which looks closer to Grandma’s digital camcorder then they do to something that George Lucas or Stanley Kubrick might produce. This film is a welcome exception; It “looks” like an actual feature film and maybe there was even a chance that this was slated to become such a film until it was screened for theater executives. We may never know but the end result is a visual boost in quality not often found in films of this type.

If only the story could match the visuals, we would have a bona fide “diamond in the rough” here. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case; In this case, three great genres – Old American Western, slapstick comedy & zombie horror – Really is a crowd, with the slapstick comedy ultimately being the loser of the three.

Since I haven’t seen any attempt of a zombie film set in the Old American West, I kept thinking while watching this film how great it would’ve been if the comedy had been ditched for a straight horror angle instead. The comedy is ill-fit here, with Kattan, a seasoned comedian, forced to deliver much of the humor after the main plot is set into motion. Although some moments are more humorous then others (perhaps the most smirk-worthy moment is a zombie refusing to “die” even when appropriately shot multiple times), I never found myself laughing  like how the comedy was meant to be taken. If anything, Kattan’s character is more annoying then humorous. It’s a bad sign when the movie’s bloopers run during the credits outshine the comedy that did make the cut.

In fact, by the end of the film, it almost felt as though the screenwriters and crew had given up on the film entirely. A simmering romance between Kattan’s character and the Native American female is utterly wasted, thrown away on a final joke meant as a homage (I hope) to the finale in “A Boy and His Dog.” The film also plays on a well-worn gimmick in horror movies of a zombie popping up on the screen in the final second or so that does little to bolster the overall quality of the production.

Theater-grade cinematography aside, this film tries to juggle three genres and fails to keep any of them in the air for very long. Perhaps, though, from the ashes of this failed venture, someone will be interested at taking a stab at making a serious zombie film in the age of steam locomotives and high noon showdowns. One can only hope.

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