Maybe it’s the “toxic lunar vibrations.” Or consuming coffee and doughnuts too late in the day.
Possibly it has something to do with Cleveland.
The zombie apocalypse must have some sort of explanation, but Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” is not interested in exploring it. This loopy comedy would rather slouch around and makes jokes about horror movies.
Jarmusch, on a roll lately with “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Paterson,” is on something like a vacation here, gathering his favorite actors and flipping the bird in the direction of modern society. Despite the bitter aftertaste, the film makes for strangely good company.
In a small Pennsylvania town — not coincidentally, the same kind of location zombie godfather George Romero used for his films — a sheriff (Bill Murray) and deputy (Adam Driver) sense something amiss.
The sun is out way too late, for instance. Plus, the two likable folks at the local diner have had their intestines munched on by intruders.
Enlightenment comes from a friendly newscaster (Rosie Perez), reporting that “polar fracking” has caused the Earth to shift off its axis. That can’t be good.
When the undead rise from their graves (Iggy Pop and Sara Driver are the first memorable marauders), they demand the one thing that meant the most to them during their lives. Coffee, for instance. Or Snapple.
This is a nod to Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” where the zombies return to a huge shopping mall, endlessly roaming its corridors — basically indistinguishable from any shopping mall on any weekend afternoon.
Jarmusch brings in a gallery of interesting actors, most of whom don’t have a whole lot to do: Chloë Sevigny, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover. As “Hermit Bob,” an old coot wisely isolating himself in the forest, Tom Waits comes across as the voice of reason.
While Bill Murray and Adam Driver try to out-deadpan each other, Tilda Swinton steals the show as a Scottish undertaker whose skill with a sword comes in handy when cutting off zombie heads. Jarmusch’s directing style is so laid-back here I wish more of the cast had Swinton’s zip.
“The Dead Don’t Die” is full of meta-references to being in a Jim Jarmusch movie, which strongly suggests that Jarmusch was more interested in spoofing movie cliches than in zombies. Fair enough, although the inside-joke strategy doesn’t build to much.
I enjoyed watching the film, just for its shaggy rhythm and the almost vaudeville-like approach to repeating gags. This is no “Shaun of the Dead” — more like a shrug of the dead.
The film has one incisive ongoing joke. You know how most horror movies seem to be populated by people who have never seen a horror movie? This one is the opposite: Everybody knows, and cites, the films that might have provided useful information in dealing with a zombie attack. It doesn’t help ‘em one bit.
“The Dead Don’t Die” (3 stars)
Jim Jarmusch takes a laid-back (and in-jokey) approach to the zombie apocalypse, as two deadpan police officers (Bill Murray, Adam Driver) try to figure out what’s made the undead rise in their small town. It sure doesn’t build to much, but the comic rhythm is enjoyable on its own. Tilda Swinton steals the show as a sword-wielding Scottish undertaker.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Opening: Friday: Alderwood Mall, Seattle 10, Thornton Place
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