Review – Sin City And Zombies (“Army of the Dead”)

There are hundreds of zombie/undead movies out there, but how many of them decided to mash them up with an Ocean’s 11 premise? Well, here’s one! AND this movie even pulled a switcheroo stunt by reshooting practically the entire film with another actor. Why?

In the middle of filming, actor Chris D’Elia was accused of sexual misconduct and fired from the picture. Actor/ comedian Tig Notaro was hired and painstakingly inserted into the film through a combination of reshooting scenes and using digital trickery, just like they did with Christopher Plummer in All The Money In The World. You know the old saying, “The show must go on!”, even if it’s with another actor digitally superimposed into the movie! But I digress. . .

Thanks to an Area 51 blunder, a zombie plague is unleashed on Las Vegas in what I can only describe as a bloody gruesome, and yet pretty funny opening sequence. Heroes emerge as a result, as well as a wall that the government erects around Sin City to contain the walking dead. Years go by and one of the ex-heroes, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), is approached by billionaire Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), owner of the lavish Bly’s Hotel & Casino. He proposes a risky, yet profitable gamble: sneak into Vegas, break into the Bly’s underground casino vault, steal the $200 million there, and return safely without being killed, and he’ll get a cool $50 million! Hey, what could possibly go wrong?

Faster than you can say, “Avengers assemble”, Scott gets a team together: mechanic and BFF, Maria Cruz (Ana DeLaReguela), soldier Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), timid German safecracker Ludwig Deter (Matthias Schweighofer), YouTube zombie-killer Mikey Guzman (Raul Castillo), wise-ass chopper pilot Marianne Peters (Notaro), and Bly’s dickweed henchmen, Martin (Garret Dillahunt). In a forced side-plot, Scott’s demanding daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), comes along, as she needs to find some lost friends who are inside the city. Luckily, the team has Lilly (Nora Arnezeder), an expert zombie tracker to guide them to their destination. They’re first introduced to the undead, as they’ve apparently adapted into a society ruled by Zeus (Richard Cetrone), the Alpha male of the zombies.

Just as they think they have it made by opening the vault and acquiring a ton of cash, Murphy’s Law kicks in as everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. There’s a zombie tiger (from the old Siegfried & Roy show), the POTUS wants to nuke Vegas as a final solution, double-crosses, betrayals, unexpected deaths, greedy a-holes, super-fast undead, people running out of bullets, a rather curious Groundhog Day reference, and blood. I’m talkin’ a gratuitous, way-overly graphic amount of blood, gore, and violence, that I was surprised didn’t rate this NC-17! Maybe because quite a bit of it was handled with dollops of humor? 

Director Zack Snyder (300, Justice League: Snyder Cut) also co-wrote this, along with Shay Hatten (John Wick 3: Parabellum) and Joby Harold (Awake), but this was Snyder’s main idea, since he directed the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. The plot, a pretty straight-forward one, is gummed-up by the ridiculous side-plot of Kate’s rescue plans, which adds nothing to the initial plot except to weaken it. Take that out, and the whole movie would have flowed better in continuity and structure, but Snyder thew that in for a silly father/daughter dynamic. The real pay-off is the entire Mission: Impossible or Oceans 11 with zombies premise. That part worked, especially writing in a smart Alpha male that controls his undead hoard. Nice!

Leading this gung-ho cast is Bautista, who plays it calm, cool, and collected, quite the opposite of his balls-to-the-wall Drax the Destroyer character we’ve all come to love. The real delight is the ensemble cast members, especially comic-relief Schweighofer who tries to bond with his fellow teammates, mercenary Hardwick who has a dangerously playful side to him, Arnezeder who is SO good, the movie should have been more about her and her character, crazy gun-toting Castillo, and DeLaReguela who is both deadly and beautiful. Even Notaro who was added in 11th hour manages to get in some good quips. Ignore all the unnecessary drama and just enjoy the crazy heist and unimaginable piles of gore and blood!

**Currently showing in select theaters, but will open to wide release on May 21st AND stream on Netflix!   

Train To Busan 2: Peninsula (2020)

2016’s Train to Busan was a Korean zombie film where the super-fast, hungry undead attacked innocent people aboard a moving train. Chilling, scary, full of nerve-jangling scenes, and brilliantly directed by Yeon Sang-Ho, it was a cut above your standard zombie flicks.

This sideways sequel is set four years later, as we’re told in a convenient late-night talk show exposition segment, that thanks to a North Korea government test, a plague caused those War World Z type zombies to infect ALL of South Korea so much, that the entire country is quarantined and off-limits to the world. However, all the lucky Korean refugees who got out are now considered scum by everyone, especially in Japan where most of them landed. It’s here we meet ex-Korean Marine Corp Cpt. Jung-Seok (Gang Dong-won), guilt-ridden over not being able to save his family on board an infected rescue ship.

But Jung-Seok and his brother-in-law, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) are given a second chance by an Italian mobster in Japan (Geoffrey Guiliano). He’s got $20 million in stolen U.S. dollars on a truck just sitting on a highway near the docks and Jung-Seok will get a nice share if he and his small crew can find it, steal it, and leave without being eaten alive. Sounds easy! What could possibly go wrong?! Arriving at night (’cause that’s when the zombies can’t see, apparently), Jung-Seok, Chul-min, and two others arrive in secrecy and find the truck with all the stolen cash! Well, that was easy! Wait! What was that?!! Oh no! Zombies!!!

Quicker than you can say, “Run, Barry! RUN!”, they’re attacked by the speedy undead. Luckily, Jung-Seok is saved by teenager Jooni (Lee Re) and her bratty little sister, Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), and driven to a safe house where Jooni’s bad-ass mother, Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun) and looney grandfather (Kwon Hae-hyo) survive. Meanwhile, Chul-min is facing the worst of it: just like a nightmarish combo of Running Man & Escape From New York, Chul-min is a captive of Unit 631, a rogue military group that has taken over the city under the command of Captain Seo (Koo Kyo-hwan).

But Captain Seo’s command is constantly being tested by the brutal and vicious Sgt. Hwang (Kim Min-jae), who runs the underground ‘games’ where captured citizens are pitted against zombies for sport, and Chul-min is next on the menu! Jung-Seok makes the decision to not only get back the stolen truck with the money, but take his rescuers back to Toyko with him, unbeknownst to him that Captain Seo has secretly made a deal with Jung-Seok’s mobster boss for the same money! The first to the boat docks with the truck & the cash gets safe passage back to civilization. The wild & insane third act, like a Mad Max meets the Fast & the Furious car chase has Jooni driving, Tokyo-drift style, through hoards of CGI zombies! Crazy!

Although written & directed by the wonderful Yeon Sang-Ho again, along with Park Joo-Suk, this film lacks the bite (sorry!) of the original. The first movie was claustrophobic and jarring, set mostly on board a speeding train with rampaging, killer zombies. The action was centered, focused, and nail-biting. This ‘sequel’ is like your normal, hero-driven action film, but with thousands of hungry undead. Kinda standard when you stop and think of what the previous film had to offer, which was eye-popping excellence. The characters are all standard and reminiscent of George Romero’s 1985 Day of the Dead with the military going bonkers and taking over.

Even though this movie doesn’t hold a candle to the 2016 film, Yeon Sang-Ho still delivers on the action with absolutely ridiculous scenes of teenager Jooni driving and drifting so effortlessly that Dominic Toretto would be proud. Check out the multitudes of CGI zombies falling from bridges like a waterfall of the dead. Nutty!! 

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