At first appearing to be a cool new entry to the zom-com genre—Jim Jarmusch’s answer to Zombieland, right down to a droll, meta Bill Murray—The Dead Don’t Die ultimately lands somewhere closer to an SNL sketch. It’s one note, it overstays its welcome, its parody is painfully on the nose, its socio-political current events satire is groan-worthy, and half the time, the “joke” is just that a known celebrity is playing a role. And certainly no one would ever accuse it of being subtle.
Adam Driver’s cop has a Star Destroyer keychain (don’t worry, you can’t miss it, because it’s explicitly pointed out); RZA is a delivery driver for WU-PS; Steve Buscemi’s right-wing farmer has a “Make America White Again” cap; Rosie Perez plays reporter Posie Juarez; Bill Murray’s police chief repeatedly makes clear he’s in a movie; Selena Gomez and her fellow unusually attractive hipster horror movie fodder drive the Pontiac LeMans from Night of the Living Dead; and, actually hilariously, Iggy Pop is all-too-aptly cast as a zombie (Tilda Swinton’s samurai-hacker-Scottish-mortician similarly ends up being a nail-on-the-head casting job after a third-act twist).
Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Carol Kane, and Tom Waits are less winkingly involved (though Waits may just be the same character from Buster Scruggs) in The Dead Don’t Die’s fairly straightforward zombie parable: polar fracking has clunked the Earth off its axis, causing animals to run off, electronics to falter, and the dead to rise from their graves. Here’s the deadpan way a small Pennsylvania town of under 800 is handling that.
But while the obviously stacked cast does lead to some real elbow-nudging eye-rollers, it also salvages what is almost certainly Jarmusch’s slightest effort to date. His game cast ably sells a lot of it, repeatedly earning the celebrity that is far too often the gag. For every few misses, the film gets a hit that’s funnier than most anything else in theaters this year. Driver’s delivery of “oh, yuck” alone deserves an Oscar nod.
With 2003’s Coffee and Cigarettes, Jarmusch had the likes of Murray, RZA, Waits, Pop, GZA, Cate Blanchett, the White Stripes, Steve Coogan, Alfred Molina, Roberto Benigni, and Steven Wright playing themselves in a series of comic vignettes. With The Dead Don’t Die, he reveals that was his subdued take on pointing out all his noteworthy friends by name and status. Still, even Jarmusch’s worst is better than a lot, and his relative failure is our success at finding something just amusing enough for getting through a couple hours of a flight.
The Dead Don’t Die
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Studio: Focus Features
Runtime: 103 minutes
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi