The Dead Don’t Die (**) doesn’t rise

The Dead Don’t Die – 2019

Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits

I’ve never been a huge fan of Jarmusch the filmmaker. The only one I have made it all the way through is Broken Flowers, and that is because it is Bill Murray. This time, it is Bill Murray again. There’s Adam Driver in Logan Lucky mode. The Dead Don’t Die shows Type B personalities in a situation that demands someone ramp it up to Type A. In that way, Murray, Driver and Sevigny fit right into the story.

Picture Mayberry in modern day. Most folks are even handed. Some, like Buscemi’s Miller are conservative rednecks. We know the writer intends him to die and for the reasonable folks not to miss him. That’s okay though, because everyone is going to get it in the end, even if most of them are off screen.

If you think I am ruining it for you, don’t worry. What matters in this story is not what happens. It’s that you can’t tell anything is happening. Several phrases and sequences are repeated to an annoying degree. As my daughter concluded, it’s the kind of riff that might be funny to someone on acid.

The story starts with references to the earth being off its axis due to a concept called “polar fracking.” It’s a presumed method of crudely getting fuel through the process of drilling at the poles, I guess.

We understand it is bad, because the government spokesperson keeps telling us that it is safe on TV and Radio. The spokesperson must be working for Trump, if we can infer from the “Make America White Again” had that Miller has on. This makes him bad and conservatives the fault for the ensuing result of the rising of the dead.

Once the dead do rise, we see an updated version of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Characters posit that the dead seem to be caught up in doing the things they did when they lived. This means several shopping references and many zombies looking at their lit up cell phones that haven’t worked for two days for the living. Anything for the gag.

Jarmusch is heading for humor in some scenes, but he does not care if we enjoy it the way he and his actors might. Its the constant playing of the “theme song,” references to its singer, Sturgill Simpson (also a zombie), the half asleep delivery of lines intended to mute the humor or Swinton going the “Full Tilda” in her role as a mortician. All of it grates before it amuses.

Bill Murray is once more a muted version of himself. He knows what’s funny, but he doesn’t feel like delivering it this time. Driver would be great to bounce off of Murray, were the comedian so inclined. That he is not makes the last act almost unbearable.

Still, that I don’t hate this film is more a tribute to the interesting cast. I keep thinking something good could happen, even though nothing really does. People just show up places, wait around, talk about stuff, then they die.

The biggest political conceit is Tom Waits performance as a prescient wizened hermit. Perhaps in towns like Centerville, there might be some fringe elements living off the land. These days most people making those choices aren’t doing it to live off the land and Miller’s chickens as free men. There are usually some bad choices somewhere along the line.

His Hermit Bob knows the land and animals enough to know why they’re all running for the woods. Somehow he connects it to our hubris, stupidity, etc. Okay, gotta hand it to Bob. Living off real mushrooms must be the wise way, but my guess is he’s used some bad ones off-screen. Maybe he and Jarmusch had the same batch.

(** out *****)

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