The 2008 zombie action/comedy Dance of the Dead could have been a great film. It had a capable technical crew, good special effects, and a few good actors. Also, like a great zombie movie I reviewed earlier this week (Night of the Living Dorks), it had a funny frog dissecting scene, good looking actresses, and a hillarious Gym-teacher character.
So what did it lack? Any character development at all.
I know that’s not a sexy or fun diagnosis, but unfortunately it’s true.
Dance of the Dead is the tale of what happens in a small Georgia town on prom night when pollution from a nearby power plant causes the dead to rise from their graves and feed on the flesh of the living. Unfortunately for the audience, the flesh they select belongs to the main characters of this film, who are boring and wooden.
DOTD’s protagonists are a group of nerds–one of whom dreams of dating a beautiful, popular girl (again, come to think of it, like in Night of the Living Dorks). However, these kids just aren’t very good actors, and they’re given a script that’s not witty or clever at all. There are no surprises, no interesting plot twists, and nothing very funny ever happens. Also, the characters’ motivations are mostly unclear. It’s hard to say what the characters want. (Not to be eaten by zombies, yes, but to establish who they are as people, you need something more.)
The actors all look like they’re actually the ages they play (17 or so), but gee, maybe there’s a reason so many movies cast 20-somethings to play high school students. Maybe it has to do with acting ability.
The zombies in DOTD show up in the very first scene, and are fast moving and violent. As zombies go, I liked them a lot. (One exception: This is the first zombie-movie I’ve ever seen where zombies explode up out of their graves. It looked weird and unnatural [and not the good kind of zombie-unnatural]. My guess is that the special effects crew was so excited that they could do this effect that they didn’t stop to think about whether or not they SHOULD do it… or if it made any damn sense at all.)
The standout performance that almost redeems the film (but, you know, doesn’t) is Mark Oliver as Coach Keel. His over-the-top gun-toting gym teacher character is both human and funny–two things that the rest of the cast, alas, is not.
If anything, DOTD reminded me of Killer Clowns from Outer Space, a film that was literally written by a special effects team. DOTD does a great job with the gore, and the zombie-fighting sequences are some of the best I’ve seen in recent years, but when the ninety seconds of exciting action are over, you’re once again stuck watching characters you don’t care about. In my opinion, this film was created by skillful technicians, but sub-par writers and actors.