Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

February 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Lily James, Sam Reily, Matt Smith
Directed by: Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”)
Written by: Burr Steers (“How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days”)

I don’t like zombies. I don’t get the zombie craze. I’m not a fan of “The Walking Dead,” I don’t understand why people are legitimately afraid of the zombie apocalypse, and so on. I gave the craze a fair shake in 2009, mind you, when I checked in on the burgeoning zombie zeitgeist by reading the Seth Grahame-Smith/Jane Austen mash-up novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” on which the long-delayed movie is based. When I set the book down, I shrugged. I had smiled at some clever moments, but the story as a whole never grabbed me, too beholden to Austen’s original text (which it seems makes up about 85 percent of the novel) to get as truly unhinged as the logline hints at. Seven years and numerous behind-the-scenes changes later, the film has finally arrived, suffering from the same problems as the source material.

In 19th century England, the Bennet sisters, led by headstrong Elizabeth (Lily James of last year’s live-action “Cinderella”), navigate the prim and proper social scene, looking for husbands while also using their expert martial arts skills to ward off hordes of the undead zombies that have Britain under siege. The arrival of dashing Mr. Darcy (Sam Reily), he himself a proficient zombie killer and the model of upper class prejudice, frustrates Elizabeth as they, of course, end up falling in love. Only this time there are zombies and stuff.

With dullness settling over the whole movie like an English fog, “PPZ” only springs to life all too infrequently. A particular bright spot is “Doctor Who’s” Matt Smith as the Bennet sisters’ cousin and suitor. Effeminate and persnickety, Smith’s Parson Collins lights up the drabness that overtakes what should have been a somewhat batshit romp through classic literature peppered with armies of the undead, sort of an “Army of Darkness” for women. Instead, though, nothing ever really gels and the digitally-muted CGI violence never engages like it should. The Bennet sisters are interchangeable in their badassery, and Darcy and Bingley (Douglas Booth) are blandly beautiful Brits with luscious lips and permanent stubble. Yawn. The movie even wastes the two “Game of Thrones” ringers in the cast by stranding Charles Dance as the Bennet sisters’ benevolent father and Lena Headey as one-eyed zombie-hunting dowager who essentially does nothing. What ends up on the screen ultimately isn’t funny enough, scary enough, thrilling enough, or fun enough. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” won’t put an axe through the brain of the genre, but it may signal we’re approaching the end of this epidemic.

17 Again

April 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Zach Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon
Directed by: Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”)
Written by: Jason Filardi (“Bringing Down the House”)

Even when out-of-body fantasies were a groundbreaking movie genre back in the 80s, there wasn’t much creative storytelling behind any of the projects with the exception of “Big” starring Tom Hanks. (Even then, “Big” wasn’t necessarily that type of movie since there wasn’t any switching of bodies between characters).

From “Vice Versa” to “Like Father Like Son” to “18 Again!,” the films told the same coming-of-age tale either about an adult wanting less responsibility or a kid wanting to experience freedom as an adult. While director Penny Marshall was able to capture all the sweet-natured and awkward moments of a boy wanting to become a man before his time in “Big,” (the role gave Tom Hanks his first Oscar nomination of his career) the others simply fell by the wayside as conventional comedies.

The same can be said about Zach Efron’s new film “17 Again.” Despite the similar title, this is not a prequel of the George Burns 1998 movie where he switches bodies with his comatose grandson. Instead, the Efron vehicle is set up like the opposite version of “Big” or more recently “13 Going on 30.” It begins with Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry), a down-on-his-luck, underappreciated sales manager in the middle of a divorce, who wishes he could turn back the hands of time and become a teenager again so he can revisit some of the questionable choices he made when he was young and dumb.

After meeting his “spirit guide,” who is working as a janitor in the hallways of his old high school, Mike is given the chance to live his teenage years over again when he is magically swept into a watery wormhole. Once out, he discovers he has transformed back into a 17-year-old. While it really isn’t necessary to explain how exactly this happens in these types of films (remember Voltron in “Big,” the oriental skull in “Vice Versa,” and the Najavo elixir in “Like Father Like Son?”), “17 Again” stands extraordinarily idle by making this portion of the script so open ended.

As a high school senior again, Mike (now played by Efron), returns to his old stomping grounds to play a personal game of “what if” all while keeping an eye on his teenage kids (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg) and trying to find out why his wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann) has filed for divorce. Actor Thomas Lennon is an annoying thorn in the screenplay as Mike’s rich, grown-up best friend Ned, who pretends to be his father so he can enroll him back into high school.

Now back in school, we return to Mike’s glory days as he rejoins his old basketball team and attempts to find out where his life went wrong. It starts off wrong for screenwriter Jason Filardi when he puts too much emphasis on paying homage to films of the past like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Back to the Future.” While most Efron fans probably haven’t seen any of the aforementioned movies, there’s still a familiar aftertaste once “17 Again” is all said and done. Sure, it might be made for an entirely different generation, but even Efron can’t squeeze out enough charisma and charm to get past the lazy script, tween dialogue and references, and unoriginality of it all.