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Army of the Dead mashes a heist flick with zombies

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Writer-director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel, Justice League) helms this mash-up about a team of mercenaries that infiltrates Las Vegas in a bid to steal $200 million from a safe under a casino. The only hitch? Vegas is filled with zombies. (148 min.)

ZOMBIE FOOD A team of mercenaries infiltrates a walled-off Las Vegas infested with zombies in a bid to steal $200 million from a casino's underground vault, in Army of the Dead, screening on Netflix. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NETFLIX
  • Photo Courtesy Of Netflix
  • ZOMBIE FOOD A team of mercenaries infiltrates a walled-off Las Vegas infested with zombies in a bid to steal $200 million from a casino's underground vault, in Army of the Dead, screening on Netflix.

Glen If you're a fan of Zack Snyder's brand of excessive filmmaking, you'll no doubt enjoy this violent, gory romp. On the other hand, if you're annoyed by filmmaking that seems to want to throw everything but the kitchen sink into a film, you're going to despise this over-the-top, trashy pile of nonsense. Even if you're in the second category, you still may want to watch this for Tig Notaro, who's absolutely hilarious as Marianne Peters, a deadpan helicopter pilot. Dave Bautista stars as Scott Ward, who's hired by the mysterious businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), whose $200 million is sitting in a safe ripe for the taking. Ward rounds up a crew that includes experienced zombie killers, and to up the emotional ante, Ward's estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), comes along for the ride. German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) is also hired, which seems dumb since you'd assume Tanaka would know the combination to his own safe and just hand it over to the team, but Dieter makes for great comic relief. To top it off, things aren't quite as they seem. Tanaka's head of security, Martin (Garret Dillahunt), also comes along to supervise the operation, though there's definitely something shady about him. At nearly 2 1/2 hours, Snyder takes his time introducing us to the various characters, so despite the long list, it isn't confusing, but it is pretty glib and sort of dumb. The film picks up speed when the team is eventually guided into the quarantine zone by The Coyote, Lilly (Nora Arnezeder). Turns out not all zombies are created equal, and Vegas is run by Zeus (Richard Cetrone), who's making more smart zombies like himself. It's one thing to take out "shamblers"— the slow mindless undead—it's another to go up against Zeus and his army of fast-moving flesh eaters. Cue exploding blood bags.

Anna You definitely can't analyze the storyline too intricately without seeing some major flaws right away. That said, this was a pretty fun, pretty gross romp through a zombie world, and the ensemble is a good mix of funny folks and badasses. My faves are definitely Notaro's deadpan Peters and Schweighöfer's Dieter—an inexperienced zombie slayer who isn't prepared for the sheer amount of gore in store for him. The storyline between Scott and Kate, and the rebuilding of their father-daughter relationship is pretty unoriginal, but it helps move things along and gives the characters something to do with any downtime. It definitely made me laugh a few times and made me say "yuck!" a few times more as guts went flying all over the place. I wasn't a fan of the zombies at first—they don't fit the normal zombie mold—but once we realized they're working to build their own army of the smarter, faster undead, I got into it. It's a long run, but I had fun watching it and I didn't get bored, so kudos to Snyder for that!

Glen He's certainly returned to his roots with this film. Snyder's feature film debut was the 2004 remake of George A. Romero's 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Snyder followed with 300 (2006), about Sparta's epic battle against the Persians in 480 B.C. He's a slick filmmaker with a knack for depicting stylized violence. His 2011 fantasy Sucker Punch, about an institutionalized and abused girl who retreats into an alternative reality, is one of his best and most underrated films. By the time he was plucked to direct Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and finally Justice League, he was Hollywood royalty. In a break from all these big violent films, he's next directing an adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel Fountainhead, about a young architect battling for artistic freedom. Seems like a weird choice, and I hope he has the good sense to skewer Rand's sophomoric brand of libertarianism. Snyder really is an indulgent filmmaker, and Army of the Dead is nowhere near his best, but it's a fun diversion if you can stomach the gore. It also gives Bautista an opportunity to stretch his acting muscles. In his scenes with his movie daughter, you almost forget he's a 6-foot-4 former pro wrestler. There are also better zombie films out there, but for fans of the genre, watching this is a no-brainer ... pun sadly intended.

Anna Bautista was a fun choice, and seeing Las Vegas in tatters is pretty fun, too. Superhero flicks aren't always my thing, so I've missed some of Snyder's work there, but I love a good zombie movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, and Army of the Dead certainly fits that bill. It's gross and gory and totally over the top, the characters all have their own brand of snark, and there's enough comic relief to stay light. It's fun enough to ignore the flaws in the storyline and ride along as this group gets pulled apart. Some get eaten, some sacrifice themselves, some make it out unscathed. There's a nuke headed toward the city to try to wipe out the zombie colony, so of course the team is up against the wire, and time is not on their side. It keeps things rolling, and the film never gets boring. Like you said, fans of the genre will probably have fun with this one, and if zombies aren't your thing, I doubt this is on your watch list anyway. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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