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‘Dead’ a hipster zombie comedy

This undated image provided by Focus Features (from left to right), shows Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Adam Driver in a scene from writer/director Jim Jarmusch’s ‘The Dead Don’t Die’. (AP)

Cooper circling Del Toro’s ‘Nightmare’

Six years ago, Jim Jarmusch made a movie about vampires. “Only Lovers Left Alive” was beautifully textured, ingeniously detailed and intoxicatingly moody. Plus it had the sexiest vampire couple you’d ever meet – Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, the latter of which hated humans and referred to them as “zombies”.

Now Jarmusch has made an actual zombie movie, and sorry to say, they’re a lot less sexy. In fact they’re pretty standard-issue zombies, straight from any zombie movie you’ve seen before, not to mention the “Thriller” video.

This isn’t to say “The Dead Don’t Die”, a hipster zombie comedy if ever there was one, has nothing going for it. Jarmusch’s cast is a veritable embarrassment of riches: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Rosie Perez and Iggy Pop, for starters.

It’s also drily funny, and raises the director’s deadpan aesthetic to a new level of, well, dead (or undead). “This strange film,” Jarmusch has called it affectionately, and that it is – but couldn’t it have been much more? It’s a trifle compared to much of his other work, and with all that talent, you wish the aim had been a bit higher.

Still, if you’re a Jarmusch fan, you’ll surely have a good time – especially when things get really zany and the fourth wall comes tumbling down, in a way that perhaps only he can pull off.

Oh, by the way: Swinton’s here, too. Not as a vampire, nor a zombie – but as a Scottish samurai warrior mortician. Yup, a Scottish samurai warrior mortician, and Swinton’s probably the only actor on (or off) the planet who can pull that off.

The locale is a small town called Centerville, population 738 and “a real nice place,” according to the roadside welcome sign. It’s the kind of town where there’s one gas station, one diner, one police station – and three cops.

That would be the chief, Cliff (Bill Murray, at peak Murray-ness), Ronnie (Driver, the true master of deadpan here), and Mindy (Sevigny, a nervous Nellie in nerdy glasses).

As we begin, Cliff and Ronnie are investigating a stolen chicken claim lodged by the town’s resident racist farmer (Buscemi) against its resident hermit in the woods (Hermit Bob, aka Jarmusch stalwart Tom Waits). But it soon becomes clear that something more serious is happening.

Wristwatches stop working. Daylight is refusing to cede to darkness. Cell phones fail. “This isn’t going to end well, Cliff,” says Ronnie, a line he will utter more than once.

Also, pets are running away. What do they know that their humans don’t? There are some clues on the news (Rosie Perez plays a newscaster named Posie Juarez), with talk of the scourge of “polar fracking,” which is causing the earth to shift on its axis – but hey, the politicians say, it’s creating jobs. (This is as close as we come to a political message.) At a juvenile detention center, one kid immediately grasps the gravity of the axis-shift thing: it could be the end of the world.

Attack

And then the dirty hands start popping out of the graves. The first attack is at the diner, where two unfortunate workers are cleaning up. The first two zombies (Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, Jarmusch’s partner) unleash some disgusting havoc, feasting on human innards, until they spot something better.

“Coffee!” they gurgle, guzzling up the stuff. It seems these zombies gravitate toward things they liked when alive. (One zombie – the delightful Carol Kane – can’t stop saying “Chardonnay”. Others chant “Wi-Fi” and “Siri”.)

The cops remain clueless for a long while, at least the chief. As for Ronnie, “I’m thinkin’ zombies,” he says. “You know, the undead. Ghouls.” Meanwhile at the funeral home, mortician Zelda (Swinton) realizes the corpses she’s prettifying in multicolored makeup are suddenly waking up. Nothing phases Zelda, though. “I am confident in my ability to defend myself against the undead,” she declares in her Scottish brogue. (When you see her samurai skills, you’ll agree.)

We also have a young hipster trio, led by Zoe (Gomez, a newbie to the Jarmusch universe, but underused here), unfortunate enough to be visiting Centerville at the wrong time. As Ronnie would say, this isn’t going to end well.

Speaking of Ronnie, Cliff wonders at one point why he seems, well, to know everything that’s going to happen. It would probably amount to a spoiler to elaborate on this.

“The Dead Don’t Die”, a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for zombie violence/gore, and for language.” Running time: 105 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Also:

LOS ANGELES: Bradley Cooper is in early talks to star in Guillermo del Toro and Fox Searchlight’s adaptation of “Nightmare Alley”.

Sources say Cooper recently received an offer and while it’s currently unclear if a deal will close, sources indicate both sides have engaged in talks. Cooper would take the place of Leonardo DiCaprio, who ended up passing on the project after a deal could not be reached.

Del Toro will direct the pic and co-wrote the script with Kim Morgan. “Nightmare Alley” is being produced and financed by del Toro and J. Miles Dale with TSG Entertainment, with Fox Searchlight acquiring worldwide distribution rights to the film.

While Fox made a “Nightmare Alley” movie in 1947, this film will be based moreso on the William Lindsay Gresham novel of the same name. The 1947 movie starred Tyrone Power as an ambitious young con-man who teams up with a female psychiatrist who is even more corrupt than he is. At first, they enjoy success fleecing people with their mentalist act, but then she turns the tables on him, out-manipulating the manipulator.

The film shoots this fall as del Toro fills out the remaining roles. (Agencies)

By Jocelyn Noveck

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