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Film review: 'Undead' is absurd even for zombie flick

Published: Friday, Aug. 19 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

UNDEAD — * 1/2 — Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins; rated R (violence, gore); see Page W2 for theaters.

"Undead," the debut feature from the Australian twins Peter and Michael Spierig, is a broad mishmash of zombie horror, old-fashioned sci-fi, spaghetti Western, slapstick comedy and high-tech "Matrix"-style action that bites off more than it can chew but does so without any real teeth.

It has been two years since its home-country release, and it is a wonder it made it to the United States at all. Audiences seeking a genuine zombie fix are better off with repeat viewings of George A. Romero's far superior "Land of the Dead."

Logic is rarely the driving force of zombie films, but the premise of "Undead" is beyond preposterous: Small meteorites shower the quaint fishing village of Berkeley, Australia, polluting the water supply and quickly transforming infected inhabitants into brain-munching maniacs. All potential escape routes are sealed off by a massive circular metal wall that mysteriously falls from the sky.

A small group of survivors, including a reluctant beauty queen, Rene (Felicity Mason), her pregnant, dethroned rival and two bumbling cops, hole up at a farmhouse inhabited by Marion (Mungo McKay), the town's designated weirdo. He's a gruff-talking hick with overalls, spurs, a floppy hat — and a true talent for gunplay. Once ridiculed for his space-abduction stories, he may now be their only salvation.

The film's visual effects, though impressive in number for a low-budget production, are mostly amateurish (the same goes for the acting), but there are a few inventive, comic moments scattered throughout (like a flying zombie fish and some clever dismemberments) and effective tongue-in-cheek snippets of dialogue. But the most memorable image occurs after a wacky genre shift from horror to sci-fi: Thousands of bodies are beamed high into the air where they dangle listlessly.

After a swift opening 20 minutes, "Undead" settles into a monotonous walking-dead pace. In the end, the film is a stale, derivative mess that borrows heavily from every zombie and alien movie worthy of imitation, to only ho-hum effect — the slice-and-dice carnage inflicted by the saw blade on Rene's broomstick does not compare with the dazzling blood-and-guts bath of the lawn mower in Peter Jackson's unparalleled horror-comedy zombie flick "Dead-Alive." The hooded, light-emanating extraterrestrials in "Undead," who inexplicably appear to save humankind from devastation, may sound like the whispering Gollum, but based on this inauspicious beginning, it seems unlikely there will be a "Lord of the Rings" in the Spierig brothers' future.

"Undead" is rated R for violence and gore. Running time: 100 minutes.