January 2, 2011

Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (Review)

Return of the Living Dead:
Necropolis (2005)

Director: Ellory Elkayem

2 / 5 zedheads


Sometimes filmmakers are given the opportunity to play in another film franchise's sandbox. In these cases, it is very important to follow one rule: do not shit in the sandbox.

Case in point: Director Elkayem had the opportunity to play in the The Return of the Living Dead franchise sandbox. Necropolis would be the first Return of the Living Dead-branded film in 12 years. The franchise was first established by Dan O'Bannon in 1985 and then carried by others in two other sequels, ending with Return of the Living Dead 3. Return of the Living Dead 2 and 3 had their problems, but they were more or less serviceable movies that adhered to the rules of the franchise. In 2004, Elkayem had the opportunity to revitalize the Return of the Living Dead franchise, but what did you do? He totally shit in the sandbox.

Casting reject from Resident Evil 2
In Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, zombies are accidentally freed by a group of pathetic, stereotyped teenagers who decide to infiltrate the research offices of Hydra Tech, a mega-corporation that makes everything from cheese-in-a-can to napalm. They hope to rescue their friend from being a zombie experiment but end up releasing a horde of other test subjects reanimated by Trioxin 5 (apparently not the Trioxin 2-4-5 that was a staple of the first three films). In another bullshit move, it is revealed that these zombies can be killed with head shots....and torso shots. And fire. And grenade blasts. Clearly, these zombies do not follow the rules set out in the original ROTLD franchise where we learned that nothing other than complete destruction by fire could destroy the zombies. Yes, they still crave brains, but the film disregards almost all of the original rules that made the franchise fun, much to the film's detriment. Perhaps a more faithful return to the franchise would have done more to cover up the stink left by this movie's shoddy script and flat humour.

Even the zombies are bored by Necropolis.
After a cheesy promo video for Hydra Tech that explains how the company helped suppress the last zombie outbreak 10 years ago, we are introduced to an American researcher visiting Chernobyl to pick up the remaining canisters of Trioxin 5, a zombie reanimating fluid/gas. This researcher turns out to be none other than stern old Uncle Charlie (Peter Coyote), employee of Hydra Tech and the guardian to brothers Julian (Joh Keefe) and Jake aka. Pyro (Alexandru Geoana). Julian and Jake's parents died in a car accident, and Julian is feeling mopey about it on the anniversary of their deaths while 'Pyro' sits around playing with blowtorches (the kid likes fire, if you didn't guess from the subtleties of the script). While Julian pouts, he also mopes around with his other stereotypical teen friends: Mimi the slut (Diana Munteanu), Zeke the asshole best friend (Elvin Dandel), Katie the cute girl (Jana Kramer), Becky the adorable clumsy nerd (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick), Carlos the gun-toting token Latino (Toma Danila), Cody the hacker and token black (Cory Hardrict), and other bland zombie fodder. During a painfully desperate dirt bike stunt (EXTREME, right? Kids like bike jumps, right?), Zeke wipes out. Instead of being taken to hospital, he is kidnapped by Hydra Tech to be part of Uncle Charlie's zombie experiments.
Even the actors can see this cinematic train wreck coming
The script for ROTLD: Necropolis is really shoddy. Conveniently, Katie works security at Hydra Tech and is given unreasonable access for a part-time, high school employee. She sees Zeke at the facility and alerts her friends. Conveniently, Cody "hacks" (i.e. executes an .exe file) into Hydra Tech's public web page which is conveniently linked to their high-security login network that contains convenient clues to a zombie research program called NECROPOLIS. Meanwhile, a convenient gas leak turns some homeless dudes into zombies in a parking garage because there hasn't been any zombies on screen for some time. Meanwhile, the teens decide to break into Hydra Tech to rescue Zeke. They grab their fake IDs, forehead-mounted flashlights, and nunchaku. They proceed to bumble around Hydra Tech shooting bullets at control panels until they accidentally release from the holding cells all the zombies that Uncle Charles is studying and cloning (cloning?!) for no clear reason other than to let the script rehash the trope of world domination via zombie super soldiers. It's all very predictable, under-explained, and yawn-inducing. Not a hint of fun, wit, or energy that marked the first three Return of the Living Dead films.
Zombie Clones: All the frailty of a zombie with an inconvenient 18-year gestation period.
While the script is full of holes and a patchwork of tired tropes, at least the movie didn't scrimp on zombie effects. Much to my surprise, the zombies look really good, and there's some accomplished gore effects to boot. We can thank Optic Nerve Studios for making a 1 zedhead movie into a 2 zedhead movie with a nice selection of choice zombie makeup, sculpting, severed limbs, and organ props that provide one of the only things worth watching. Even the ridiculous zombie fetus clones look cool despite their nonsensical inclusion in the story.
A common expression seen at the Necropolis test screening.
The script seems to be aware that it sucks, so it tries to cover up its shortcomings by passing off its dialogue as self-aware comedy. In a desperate attempt to capture the humour of the original Return of the Living Dead, the characters in Necropolis dabble in slapstick, purposely cheesy one-liners, and ironic dialogue, but everything seems way too forced. Even a reference to the original Return of the Living Dead when a zombie picks up the phone and asks for "more security guards" feels tired and derivative. Even though Necropolis doesn't follow any of the established ROTLD canon, these attempts to forge a connection between Necropolis and The Return of the Living Dead only go to show how weak Necropolis really is as a franchise installment and as its own zombie film.
Zombies always find the softest spot of the skull.
I think Ellory Elkayem tried to make a fun movie. The special zombie effects are surprisingly good and the script doesn't take itself too seriously, but the plot and the characters are way too flawed. Like a cat in the sandbox, Elkayem tries to bury his shit in the sand so it doesn't stink as bad. That doesn't change the most important fact: Elkayem still took a shit in the Return of the Living Dead sandbox.