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  Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, UK, 2004
Rating: 3.5
 

Posted: September 28, 2004

Editor's Note: Regular readers of Clemenza's Corner -- all eight of you -- know that Clemenza bows to no one in his love for zombie films. (One could say that his reviews of such films have a certain mindless zombie quality to them as well, but I digress.) Since Shaun of the Dead isn't your average zombie movie, I thought it'd be fun to see if he could switch gears and get "serious" while talking about a zombie movie that switches gears to be funny. Also, I wanted to get him back for continually swiping my secret stash of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Let us know what you think of the results. –- Kevin Forest Moreau, Resident Evil

“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” Thus the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup was born, a collision of separate ingredients melded together to yield a unique treat. Clemenza, you may be asking, why do you bring this up? We already know that peanut butter cups are a tasty delight. Well, you see, Shaun of the Dead is a lot like the genesis of said snack. It combines two seemingly incongruous genre elements -- the zombie flick and the comedy -- into one unique offering. (Yeah, yeah, it has romantic elements, too, but let's focus on the two primary aspects, shall we?)

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an archetypical slacker. He spends most of his free time partying with his rotund, über-slacker best friend and roommate Ed (Nick Frost), when he's not trying to hold down a job as a television salesman at what I presume to be the British equivalent of a Circuit City store. And of course, our man Shaun is also trying to commit to a relationship with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield). Sounds like he has his hands full, right? As Shaun's life continues its inexorable unraveling, the world around him is crumbling -- literally. The film does an excellent job of portraying the slow death of Shaun's social life against the backdrop of incremental societal decay as the zombie plague begins. Shaun is so immersed in his own misfortunes that he's totally unaware of the world around him, even going so far as to carry out his morning routine of walking to the local convenience store to buy a drink and a snack while zombies are gathering in the streets around him. Only when he and Ed actually come to face with a zombie does the gravity of the situation reveal itself to them.

Okay, enough of me retelling the whole freakin’ movie for ya! See it already! I'm just here to tell you what the result of all this is. The directors are smart enough not to rely on cheap, easy, Naked Gun-style gags. Some of the film's best bits come from the personalities of the characters themselves. Ed steals most of his scenes with a laid-back attitude that seems to calm the most treacherous situations -- he even stops to answer his cell phone as hundreds of zombies are closing in on him and his friends. Liz is an engaging character, too, with lustrous blonde hair, nice, pouty lips, firm, proud buttocks…and Oh God, I just wish I could…NO!!! Must…write…serious…review! Er, that is...her relationship with Shaun against the zombie backdrop, is plenty enough for the film.

There are so very few clever movies with decent senses of humor that it's hard not to pull for this movie. You want Shaun to succeed, and early on, the film carries its own weight. However, somewhere along the line, it actually turns into a serious zombie film, filled with all of the tension and drama of the original Night of the Living Dead. As the script piles on additional baggage, such as Shaun's parents and Liz's friends, and Ed, the film starts staggering under its increasingly heavy load. As the group hunkers down at Shaun's favorite local pub, The Winchester, the situation become claustrophobic, and the story begins to lose its humor and take on a bit too much drama for its own good.

Having said that, does this ruin the film? I suppose not. Shaun of the Dead certainly slows down and takes a few wrong turns, but all in all, the innovative concept manages to overshadow its shortcomings. Could it have been more? Sure. Couldn’t we all have been?

At the risk of sounding like an avant-garde, beret wearing pansy, (in other words, Laurence Station) one could make the argument that the film spans the genres of horror, action, comedy and romance, and by doing so gives the viewer doses of traditional film elements in a non-traditional format. It may be that Shaun of the Dead is cleverer than it will be given credit for (and trust me, that's a dilemma I know all too well). It dares to be different and entertaining, features that don't usually work, and for that reason, I am willing to overlook some of its shortcomings. Sure, it could stand to lighten up toward the end. But, like with a peanut butter cup, one should not spend too much time pondering the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter. Just unwrap it and eat it and be glad that it exists, and if it can temporarily lighten the load you carry, then it has done its job. On that level, I'm glad to say, Shaun of the Dead succeeds.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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