Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Dead and the Damned (USA, 2011)

We caught this one purely by accident: the hand-me-down disc was scribbled with the title Cowboys & Zombies and we just assumed that it must be Glasgow Phillips's unknown 2007 cowboy zomcom Undead or Alive (2007 / trailer) – just goes to show, you should really never assume anything. A statement that was once again substantiated after we had watched The Dead and the Damned to its slow-to-come end: at that point, we assumed the film must be some shot-on-video final project from some Californian film student – instead, we later found out, it's the shot-on-video second directorial effort of the independent genre film director Rene Perez, who previously made something that no one has ever seen called War Machine (2010 / trailer) and is presently in post-production with his next project, Obsidian Hearts (2012 / trailer). About the only assumption that proved right is that the film had some cowboys and some zombies, though the former are few and the latter are less undead zombies than people mutated into flesh-eating monsters by some green space spore.
In the end, the above basically proves you really shouldn't usually assume anything in life, and in regard to this film we would herewith like to say that if you should choose to watch The Dead and the Damned – or Cowboys & Zombies, as it is titled outside the US – you should probably do so with no expectations, for there is a good chance that you will be disappointed otherwise. But, damn! It sure is hard not to go into a film entitled Cowboys & Zombies without having any expectations 'cause the title promises sooooooo much. But if you were to compare this film to the promising curves of a woman's breasts wrapped in a skin-tight sweater, what you get in the end is neither mosquito bites nor silicon but stuffed tissue paper.
Although, when it comes to breasts, they are perhaps one of the few saving graces of the film: every woman in the film (but for one) who has any dialog at all also has a topless scene. How pleasant! One girl even has a prolonged topless chase scene, but regrettably she was badly cast: her set is a perfectly fine and perky one, but face it, if you're going have something as gratuitous as a topless woman running through forest from a pursuing zombie, the better choice for the scene would be a surgically enhanced (?), top-heavy woman like the one from the earlier, totally gratuitous bathing-in-a-field scene. Real breasts of any size may be nicer to hold in real life, but big ones – fake or not – are lot more fun to watch swing onscreen.
Cowboys & Zombies has a few other positive aspects to it aside from the occasional gratuitous booby scene. The tertiary character that reappears at the end as a sort of deus ex machina known only as "The German" (Robert Amstler), for example, may have an American accent thicker than ours, but unlike the Germans in, for example, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011 / trailer), he actually speaks real, understandable and grammatically correct German. (As is logical, perhaps, seeing that he was born in Austria – but where did he get that thick American accent?) Likewise, the guy who plays the proud Indian (Richard Mora) is like totally super good-looking and sexy and like really mega-hot and it's a real shame he doesn't have a gratuitous nude scene; if he ever does a porno, we'll be sure to rent it. Another plus to Cowboys & Zombies is the dialog, as it is often so lame that it comes across as almost intentional irony and is thus really great for an occasional laugh. Likewise, though shot in California, evidence of nearby civilization (like a house or telephone pole) only occasionally slips into the frame; thus, the landscape is usually convincing and quiet pleasing. And one must say, some of the zombies are rather effective – the blind one that chases Rhiannon (Camille Montgomery) around the house is particularly groaty and effectively horrible.
But, for all the positive aspects listed above, Cowboys & Zombies also has its flaws. While one naturally can forgive the obvious use of the same plywood set twice to represent two different towns as a budget-dictated necessity, the sloppiness of the script cannot be put down to the budget but only to third-rate scripting skills. Long scenes such as the totally retarded opening shootout may be good for a laugh, but they also damage the effectiveness of the film as a whole. The script, in general, is remarkably predictable and stale and nondescript and reminded us of, dunno, a re-warmed McDonald's hamburger without the pickle and no ketchup. In other words, not very good – and possibly even worse, not so god-awfully terrible as to be fun in a bad way.* 
Also, Cowboys & Zombies suffers from an incredibly weak lead actor (David A. Lockhart) as the bounty hunter Mortimer. Sure, he looks fine in his eternally clean clothes and he really isn't unpleasant to look at in general and his acting really isn't any worse than that of those he shares the screen with – but his voice! If John Gilbert even sounded half like Lockhart, it is fully understandable and believable that the advent of sound killed Gilbert's career. Lockhart is in definite need of voice lessons so as to learn how to sound as if he has testicles that work; if casting choices were made by voice alone, the only role he would ever get is that of a child molester.
Cowboys & Zombies – it has a few cowboys and it has zombies, boobies, a lot of bad CGI blood and some old-school body parts and an occasional unintentional belly laugh. In other words, it is a perfectly acceptable way to waste your life, if you like. If that sounds good enough to make you happy, then go for it… but we can't give you our copy of the film, 'cause we already tossed it out.
*That, however, might change as the film gets older – we, for one, find it hard to believe that films like Bloodlust! [1961 / full film] were as much fun when they first came out as they are now.

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