‘The Dead Don’t Die’
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits
In 2013, director Jim Jarmusch, the deadpan downtown artiste behind low-fi indie classics like “Stranger Than Paradise” and “Dead Man,” released “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a vampire picture besotted with texture and intelligence starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. When news broke he’d be making a zombie film with Bill Murray and Adam Driver (both of whom worked with Jarmusch on “Broken Flowers” and “Paterson,” respectively) expectations couldn’t have been higher. Sadly, “The Dead Don’t Die” is a grave disappointment as horror, as comedy and as an entry on this great director’s lengthy resume. Lightning rarely strikes twice.
Set in the nowheresville town of Centerville (a reference to Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels”) Chief Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Officer Ronald Peterson (Driver) team with Officer Mindy Morrison (Chloë Sevigny) to very, very slowly react to increasing attacks from reanimated corpses. The individual scenarios — like an undead Iggy Pop murmuring “coffeeeeee” on the way to a diner — are amusing, but not exactly original.
Because everyone wants to work with Jarmusch, he’s collected a great cast, including Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Carol Kane, Tom Waits and RZA as a deliveryman for “WuPS.” But it feels like once everyone got to the set, creating something that would inspire more than a light chuckle was a secondary interest. This isn’t to say the scenes of minimal banter aren’t droll, but they just don’t add up to anything. The movie’s climax is astounding in its lack of effort, coming off more like a Monty Python-esque dare, especially considering the emotional gut punch that concluded “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “Paterson.”
The devoted may still want to check this out, and certainly pleasures are to be found when this thing eventually pops up on cable. Adam Driver meeting spilled entrails with a declarative “yuck!” is the kind of dumb joke that just inexplicably works. Tilda Swinton as a samurai mortician with a Scottish accent reads a bit like oddball MadLibs, but her action-adventure moment is undeniably awesome. It’s just surprising, considering the heavy hitters who put this together, how hard the film struggles to reach first base.