The living dead have overtaken humanity. The last remnants of the human race live inside a walled city as they come to grips with the situation. The wealthy live in sealed skyscrapers as the poor fend for themselves on the streets. Protecting them is an enormous tank called Dead Reckoning, controlled by a group of people led by Riley. But when Riley loses command of the tank to an insane man bent on destroying the city, he must save it from Dead Reckoning as those who walk beyond the walls of the city slowly develop new abilites and become a much greater threat to humankind.
Directed by: George A. Romero
. Starring: Simon Baker
, John Leguizamo
, Dennis Hopper
, Asia Argento
, Robert Joy
, Eugene Clark
, Joanne Boland
, Tony Nappo
, Jennifer Baxter
, Boyd Banks
, Jasmin Geljo
, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos
, Tony Munch
. Music by: Reinhold Heil
, Johnny Klimek
Like all the other zombie geeks out there, I had extremely high hopes for this, George A. Romero's return to the genre that made him famous; a genre that, even if he didn't necessarily create, he managed to distill into a unique formula that inspired countless imitations. A recent "surge in the popularity of zombie movies" (meaning major studios learned there's money to be made in these types of films and started greenlighting them again) allowed Romero to secure the budget for this fourth entry in his "Living Dead" series.
Dennis Hopper is the prerequisite "corporate greed" character who has exploited the remains of civilization; in ways that are never quite made clear, he has created a walled-in safe zone inside the perimeter of Pittsburgh (although it's never named, that's where it's supposed to be set). Even though there are no real banks anymore, money must have some value because some people are "poor", while a select few are "wealthy" and live in a fortified luxury building, an unsubtle reference to gated communities. The living who are fortunate enough to be inside the walled-off city spend their lives eating the crumbs of the rich. The real danger is leaving the city to gather much-needed supplies, a hazardous mission carried out by a special forces team using a specially designed armored vehicle lovingly nicknamed Dead Reckoning. John Leguizamo is part of the team and imagines that Hopper will one day let him move into the exclusive luxury building. Hopper refuses, so Leguizamo steals Dead Reckoning and threatens to blow up Hopper's building unless he is paid $5 million.
But there's even more trouble; the zombies are demonstrating signs of being sentient, at least enough to remember their past lives. A zombie referred to in the credits as "Big Daddy" begins to get indignant about the way the living people come and mow down his kind with machine guns, and using grunts and groans, he riles up the other zombies and leads them in a march on the gated city.
Simon Baker is also on Leguizamo's foraging team, and although the movie suggests he's a badass, he's bland as toast and clearly the good guy. We know this because he keeps a friend with him who has been disfigured in a fire and whom everyone else refers to as a "retard". Into the mix comes Asia Argento, who plays a tough, impossibly gorgeous hooker named Slack. Together they are roped into a mission to retrieve the on-the-run Leguizamo, which conveniently places them out of harm's way when the living dead march on the city.
I liked the way Romero showed the way life continued even after the zombie crisis. In a way, the inspiration for this seems to have been drawn from the stories featured in Skipp & Spector's "Book of the Dead" series, which featured short stories by various authors about the world both during and after the rise of the living dead as depicted in Romero's films. The Dead Reckoning truck was a good idea--finally someone in a zombie movie realized you need an armored vehicle to ensure your own safety, although nobody has learned yet that you should probably cover all exposed skin to avoid bites from the living dead.
On the down side, the motivation of the characters is muddled on all counts. Why does Leguizamo want money? Wouldn't money be worthless in a world made up of the living dead? And if money is worthless, how does Hopper maintain his power? After a living dead apocalypse, how could anybody become a waiter in a restaurant (as depicted briefly inside Hopper's luxury tower)? Do we feel sympathy for the zombies, or not? In all the other "Living Dead" movies, the zombies were a constant, claustrophobic threat. Here we're invited to side with them, and they mostly look silly. Even worse, "Land of the Dead" has absolutely zero atmosphere. The pacing is so rapid that there's barely enough time to think about what's happening, let alone allow any suspense to build. I wanted to see more of the world oustide the perimeter of the city. Instead, we only get a glimpse of one small town where the zombies lurk. You know when zombies are going to attack, so it's never a jolt, and I can't remember a single shock in this movie, or even a moment when I cringed. The inevitable invasion of the safe zone should have been scary, but was rather unspectacular due to the editing. The social commentary is heavy-handed and has been overstated. The gore in the movie is R-rated, and the effects aren't as good as Tom Savini's makeup FX in "Day of the Dead".
The other weird thing I noticed about this film is that it has "TV syndrome". At times it is shot and edited like an episode of "ER", as if it's got to get a big story over and done with in an hour's time slot. I don't remember one single conversation in the film that was not underscored by a vague "ominous music" score that was completely unmemorable and didn't belong there at all. None of the conversations seemed real, it was more like an episode of "Buffy the Zombie Slayer".
I didn't like "Land of the Dead" all that much. The remake of "Dawn of the Dead" was a lot more enjoyable; even though it was super-dumb, at least it had some good suspense in it, and some electric action sequences. "Land of the Dead" isn't scary at all, and winds up being very dull. I'm suspecting that since this movie was made for a major studio, Romero was working within certain limitations that affected the outcome of the film. "Land of the Dead" should have been better, and ultimately the anticipation of it was a lot more exciting than the film itself.
Review by GroovyDoom from the Internet Movie Database.