Guns don’t kill people. Zombies kill people.
Writers: Glasgow Phillips, Scott Pourroy
Director: Glasgow Phillips
It’s not a good sign when a movie has to tell you in its title that it’s supposed to be a comedy…
Undead or Alive: A Zomedy is a zomcom Western. The setup is that as his final act Geronimo unleashed the “white man’s curse”: the zombie plague. Soon after the first zombie staggers into town we meet our heroes, an army deserter called Elmer (James Denton) and naive local Luke (Chris Kattan). The two later join up with Geronimo’s New York educated niece Sue (Navi Rawat) and attempt to defeat the zombies.
It’s an interesting idea with just one flaw: the film isn’t funny. Given that Phillips used to be a staff writer on South Park it’s perhaps not surprising that much of the attempted humour is weak and often crude. But even if you like that sort of thing there simply isn’t enough of it. With his experience, Phillips should have realised that his script was in serious need of some major gagging up. Adding “laugh now” music simply emphasises how little there is to laugh at.
Elmer and Luke are intended to be a classic double act. James Denton is excellent as the dry, sardonic straight man. Kattan’s Luke is clearly meant to be “the funny one” but ends up just being annoying. Navi Rawat as Sue is given little to do except look good and prop up the plot.
Putting aside the lack of comedy, how does Undead or Alive fare as a zombie movie? Not well. Phillips certainly has an eye for a shot and the film looks gorgeous. But the script and direction combine to ruin the pace and undermine any tension. For most of the film the majority of the zombie action takes place away from the main characters who amble casually through the (admittedly attractive) landscape. We almost never feel they’re in any sort of danger. Meanwhile the zombies themselves are inconsistent, varying between mindless shamblers and Black Hats who just happen to be dead.
Undead or Alive had potential. It would have worked if it was actually funny, it could also have worked played as a straight zombie Western. In the end it’s neither funny nor tense, just painful to watch.