The worst thing you can do when seeing “The Dead Don’t Die” is to go in with expectations.
If you’re looking to see an all-star cast goof off with each other, you won’t get enough to satisfy you. If you’re looking for a “Zombieland”-like comedy, you’ll only get a shade of it. If you’re looking for narratives with satisfying pay-offs, this is not your movie.
All of these problems rest on the shoulders of indie writer-director Jim Jarmusch, who seemingly doesn’t know what he wants the movie to be. But hey, if he can get Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton and Steve Buscemi to join in on this decade-too-late zombie parody, why not give it a try?
In “The Dead Don’t Die,” something strange is afoot in the small Pennsylvania town of Centerville.
Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) and his partner, Officer Ronald Peterson (Driver), are noticing that everyone seems a little off. The cattle of white supremacist Farmer Miller (Buscemi) have gone missing. Along with them, pets have escaped off to the woods.
The weirdness hits a fever pitch when two mumbling zombies, played by Iggy Pop and Sarah Driver, come into a greasy-spoon diner asking for coffee and leave after consuming the insides of its workers.
As word trickles out to the community, more of the undead appear, attacking hipster travelers (Selena Gomez and Austin Butler), a geeky gas station owner (Caleb Landry Jones) and a motel owner (Larry Fessenden).
As the locals, who also include Swinton as a sword-wielding undertaker and Chloë Sevigny as a by-the-book police officer, try to figure out how to combat the living dead, they get into some goofy antics and break the fourth wall. There are multiple jokes about the movie’s theme song, as well as references to “Star Wars,” a Wu-Tang Clan/UPS delivery business fronted by rapper RZA and the movie’s screenplay.
Billed as “The greatest zombie cast ever disassembled,” “The Dead Don’t Die” doesn’t feel any pressure for Jarmusch to stray from his usual, low-budget approach of telling odd stories in an intimate manner with bone-dry humor. He follows the horrors happening in Centerville like a visitor walking through the small town — maybe he’ll catch up with characters like the police officers and the undertaker. Others, like a vagrant played by Tom Waits or a group of teenagers escaping a juvenile justice center, are introduced and never given a proper conclusion.
The movie introduces themes taken directly from other horror movies, like George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” where zombie are drawn to what they were addicted to when they were alive, like wine, social media and coffee. It seems to exist as a joke or maybe it’s lazy social commentary — who knows?
Jarmusch’s approach to this walks the line of being self-aware and unapologetically smug. Your mileage will depend solely on how you interpret it.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live