The good thing about comic-to-movie adaptations is that when the big companies have hoovered up all the main franchises (your superheroes and so on) there’s plenty of room for fans of independent comics to get their favourites on screen. Steve Niles is the creator of “Criminal Macabre”, an excellent comic, and “Thirty Days Of Night”, which was turned into a really decent film. I’ve not read this but it feels like an attempt to start a similar sort of franchise, but how well did it do?
It starts off promising, with Tom (Grant Bowler, known for “Ugly Betty” or “Defiance” depending on your tastes) sleazing his way into work as a croupier in a run down casino in Reno. I imagine the portrayal of the town as a nasty, dirty place devoted solely to taking your money is fairly accurate, but the film doesn’t spend too much time on that. It does go out of its way to make Tom an asshole though, as he bribes Tori, one of the waitresses, with cocaine in return for sex.
While they’re doing this, the TV is full of the biggest news ever – all the world is getting rid of their nuclear weapons, but there’s a problem putting them into the “Nuke Oven” and it seems most of them go off. The one nearest Reno knocks out the power, trapping Tom and Tori behind an electronic lock – and apparently turning everyone who got a blast of the radiation into a zombie (although, honestly, they sort of gloss over this bit). By the time Tom and Tori get out, all hell has broken loose and they have to survive, along with a few other stragglers.
Another thing this movie nails is how people with no weapons and no training would cope with a sudden invasion of speedy zombies. The four survivors improvise, shoving zombies into washing machines and locking them in rooms and hitting them with whatever is at hand. This contrasts with the group of army guys who turn up later in the film, led by one of my favourite actors, Lance Reddick (“The Wire”, “Fringe”). His group seem friendly, especially his daughter, but they may well have other ideas in mind.
There are snippets of a great movie in here. The occasional touch which you can tell has had some thought put into it, the odd bit of clever dialogue, it’s like shoots of new growth breaking out from an almost dead plant. Like those shoots, though, they’re doomed because the rest of it is just not quite good enough. The characterisation is all over the place – Tom starts off as an asshole, turns into a good guy leader seemingly without notice, then flip-flops again before the end. Tori is in the spot in the film where a sympathetic character ought to be, but just isn’t; and the nastier of the two other survivors behaves like a pretty decent guy for most of his time on screen. While it may work in the comics, showing our morality as an elastic thing, in a 90 minute film it just seems like they weren’t really paying attention.
For a film which dispenses with all the typical zombie movie preamble and gets down to business, based on a comic by a great author, I was expecting to like this a lot more than I did. I just feel it’s a bit predictable, with twists and drama telegraphed. But then, considering its vintage and probable budget (it’s a TV movie for the Chiller Channel in the USA, levels below SyFy) it’s not that bad. So, provided you come to this with very very low expectations, you might have a good time, but I think probably not.
Rating: thumbs down