Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015)

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While your Netflixes and Amazons are getting into the original “TV” series game, other popular websites have worked out there’s money to be made by producing their own movies. So far, we’ve had College Humour making “Coffee Town”, Splitsider and “The Exquisite Corpse Project” (plus a standup compilation movie, but that barely counts), and now this. Crackle were known for distributing old, forgotten TV and movies for free – so, years ago, you could watch “The Tick”, “Battledome” (I loved that ridiculous show) and a ton of anime, with the only cost being adverts – a business model which clearly did pretty well for them. Saying that, Crackle also made the “Joe Dirt” sequel, but there’s no way in hell I’m deliberately watching a David Spade movie.

So, “Dead Rising”. I’ve played the first game, a bit, but I got bored of how quickly your weapons would break and how there’s no end to the zombies, ever. I presume someone (should anyone read this) would tell me this isn’t the case, but I’ve killed every zombie in *enclosed area* only to turn round a few seconds later and find it full of the shuffling bastards again. But this isn’t “Mark’s Computer Game Reviews”, because they’d all be “why is this happening so fast? Stop making it so difficult to control!”

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I know enough about the games, though, to know that there are a ton of references in here for fans. Making bonkers weapons out of two unrelated weapons (a sledgehammer taped to a chainsaw, for example) is the main one, and there are a few props and “scares” lifted from the game too. But, the one I was most interested in, and the thing that got me to watch the movie from the trailer, is the presence of comedy superstar Rob Riggle as the first game’s protagonist, Frank West. He became something of a star after surviving the mall outbreak and is in the studio, being interviewed by UBN news. He’s like the expert interviewee as the small town of East Mission, Oregon is in the middle of its own zombie outbreak, with quarantine areas and distribution of the anti-zombie drug “Zombrex” and so on. His bits are hilarious, as he gives advice based on how he survived the first game, ignoring the calming attempts of the news anchor (Carrie Grenzel, also funny).

The rest of the movie is every other zombie movie you’ve ever seen. Two reporters (Jesse Metcalfe and Keegan Connor Tracy) for an online news site are in East Mission, doing a story about the government attempts to control the outbreak. The town is being evacuated, slowly, but this all goes to pot as the Zombrex appears to stop working, leaving people to go full zombie right left and centre. Add in a beautiful and mysterious woman (Meghan Ory, “Once Upon A Time”) and a grieving mother (Virginia Madsen, and yes, I was surprised to see her in this too) and you’ve got yourself a group of protagonists! Then, because Capcom – the game company behind “Dead Rising” – seem determined to plagiarise every last bit of “Dawn Of The Dead”, we get an evil biker gang; and for a little “Day Of The Dead”, we’ve got a morally ambiguous group of soldiers too, led by Dennis Haysbert. Our heroes are trying to find evidence that Zombrex was made bad on purpose and to stop the firebombing of the town, and the people on the outside are feuding about how to deal with it.

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It starts off surprisingly well, I think. Riggle is brilliant, and the movie as a whole has a strong sense of humour, moves quickly, is well acted and has clearly had a lot of money spent on it (I reckon Capcom must have ponied up quite a bit of money for this, because Crackle Original movies shouldn’t look this good). There are some wonderfully horrific images from time to time as well, such as a zombie Dad with his baby in a carrier, taking the occasional bite as he’s strolling along. Okay, the characters are a bit generic, but one shouldn’t expect too much in a movie based on a computer game.

It does get sluggish, though, and part of that is the almost 2 hour running time.  There’s a rather long opening sequence that then cuts to “24 hours earlier”, but they then repeat most of that sequence as well as have the moment where the movie catches up to the opening come at around the halfway point, leaving it sort of pointless. It didn’t teach us anything and wasn’t directly related to the ending, so it just feels like padding in a movie that really didn’t need it – and I’m beyond tired of that device being used in movies. I could have done with a bit less of the weapon POV camera as well – a fun device once, but adds nothing the tenth time.

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“Dead Rising: Watchtower” has a nice occasional comedic tone, which makes the lurches into military conspiracy a bit odd to watch. And it obviously had no idea how to wrap things up, which leaves us with a world which is worse at the end of the movie than it is at the beginning, and no real resolution to any of the stories. I imagine if this does well (and I’ve got no idea how they’ll judge the success of a movie which was released effectively for free) we’ll get a sequel, which will no doubt leave a bunch of hanging threads for the end of the trilogy, and…it’s good enough to bother getting annoyed with the things it does wrong.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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