Pride and Prejudice & Zombies (***1/2) does good bad cinema

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Pride + Prejudice + Zombies – 2016

Written and Directed by Burr Steers
Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith based on the novel by Jane Austen
Starring  Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Ellie Bamber, Matt Smith, Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Suki Waterhouse

It’s some kind of wonderful when one mixes two things that would not necessarily go together for no particular reason at all. A few years ago,  Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter made a minor splash as a film after being the second historical mash up novels of the historical and the profane. While not to everyone’s tastes, the success of the film demanded a second film, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s  Jane Austen send up. The sand ran out on the cinematic hourglass by the time this film was let go to the world. Too bad, because it isn’t a bad movie, if the concept even slightly intrigues the viewer.

At this point even most people with only a passing knowledge of Jane Austen knows the source material, which takes place in 19th century England. Mr. Bennett (Dance) is a modest land owner with a house full of daughters. By law, this puts his meager fortune (and their prospects) at risk if he can’t get them married off properly. The plot thickens when a sullen and somewhat rude neighbor Mr. Darcy (Riley) interferes with the prospects of eldest and most beautiful sister Jane (Heathcoate) and Darcy’s friend Mr. Bingley (Booth). This, among other slights, draws the ire of Bennett’s 2nd (and we all know, best) daughter, Elizabeth (James). The resulting friction is inflamed when Wickham (Huston) invites himself into their lives with a beautifully deceptive song and dance.

Now add zombies.

All of the sudden, Bennett sent his daughters to China to learn self-defense via weaponry and martial arts. Now they are back and ready to kick ass, as well as marry. Darcy has plenty of reasons to be a dour and pessimistic vigilante. First and foremost, he knows that England must be strong to overcome the zombies. Fighters don’t come any more fierce than Elizabeth, however. We know they’d be great together, if they only could get past…their prejudice.

Somewhere along the line, Elizabeth sees that the zombies are trying to communicate with the living. It takes a while, but she figures out what is going on. In the meantime, we see dumb people get taken out and plenty of zombie death, which seems redundant. Oh well, you know what I mean.

The key to any version of Pride and Prejudice is always Elizabeth, and Lily James fits the bill nicely. Riley provides an even more serious version of the Colin Firth mold, which works well in this case. You have nothing but zombies scurrying around you better be on your guard.

There is nothing here that will make you want change your life’s goals. It is not a waste of your time, though, either. James has chops and she pulls off the confident, supportive and “she don’t know she’s beautiful” 2nd sister thing quite nicely.

The best thing about the movie is that it doesn’t wink at the camera. We are in a world full of romance and danger and we don’t for one minute think that the character’s think it’s silly.  What’s more, there is an intriguing sub-plot that attempts to look beyond the idea of zombies as a threat that this viewer has never seen attempted before. For that aspect alone, the film is worth a look.

Let’s not go too far, though.  This is Pride + Prejudice + Zombies. It’s not Kierkegaard. There is an absolute absurdity with every action set piece. When we hear that there is a mote completely around London, we realize that there are things even more ridiculous than the idea of zombies.

If you like zombies, but never tried a Jane Austen story, let this be your bridge. If you like Jane Austen and your boyfriend / husband likes the zombies, this is probably the closest you’ll get to enjoying something together. Or, if you are like your wife and me, you’ll hope they make a sequel.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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