Featuring: Jesse “John Tucker Must Die” Metcalfe , Meghan “Once Upon a Time” Ory , Rob “The Daily Show with John Stewart” Riggle
Director: Zach “Leprechaun: Origins” Lipovsky
Writer: Tim “Sleeping Dogs” Carter
Sequel: Dead Rising: Endgame
“Funny ass review!! Bonzo loves it! BOINK!!”
Every day I get a new message of concern from my loyal fanbase (Hi, mom!) asking where I am, what I’m doing, which terrorist organization is holding me hostage, and which bodily opening they’ve inserted electrodes into. At this point, which opening haven’t they inserted an electrode into is the better question! Oy.
Anyway, the answer to those questions and every question is: your mother and I will tell you when you’re older. Now go to your room, play with your Mega Bloks, and if you hear any screaming, just ignore it. And don’t call me “Dad”. Or talk to me directly after this. Go.
What’s important is that I’m here now, and in celebration of the Resurrection (of Horus, not that shyster wanna-be) I brought Dead Rising: Watchtower with me! For those uninitiated, Dead Rising is a moderately popular video game series spawned in the year of our Lord Cthulhu, 2006. The game followed intrepid photojournalist Frank West, as he strove for the truth and struggled for survival in a mega mall overrun by a zombie infestation caused by a vast corporate-military conspiracy. This was the kind of game I’d spent a large part of my life foaming at the mouth in anticipation of. Well, I was hoping for something on a larger scale, along the lines of a “Grand Theft Auto Meets Dawn of the Dead” (which would mostly happen years later in the form of State of Decay and Day Z), but Dead Rising was still amazing enough to sell me on an Xbox 360. Yes, I bought an Xbox 360 just to play it. In the gamer circles, that’s called a “system seller”. Give me the opportunity to slaughter the living dead in hilarious ways with improvised mash-up weapons like a kayak paddle with chainsaws at both ends or a motorized wheelchair with mounted machine guns or a dildo cannon, and I’ll play your game all day long. Let me do it while dressed like an overgrown man-child, decked out in a Leatherface costume, or while wearing a Borat cock sling, and I’ll play it all night too!
There was a Japanese movie based loosely around the games called Zombrex: Dead Rising Sun half-a-decade ago, created to coincide with the release of the appropriately (and uninspiringly) named Dead Rising 2. I had fully intended to get around to reviewing it here maybe someday eventually down the line when I got the chance to consider doing so…honestly. Despite the game being a product of legendary Japanese game developer Capcom (birthplace of Mega Man, Street Fighter, and a few dozen other awesome gaming franchises), it’s populated almost exclusively with North and South American characters, so a Japanese movie with Japanese actors just never felt like a “must see” scenario for me. The fact that its story had little-to-no connection with the games it was based on only lessened my interest until it just wafted off of my priorities list like a fart lost on the night air. Watchtower, however, is a product of movie and TV streaming service Crackle (not just a Rice Krispies mascot anymore!), who have decided to take a page from the business plans of competing services like NetFlix and Hulu to produce original programming of their own! Teaming with Legendary Pictures’ “Digital” department, Crackle promised that their Dead Rising would be far more involved with the continuity established in the games that it’s based on, so my hopes for this not sucking are not entirely entombed. Hey, it can’t be any worse than the fourth season of “Arrested Development”, right?
A collaborative cocktail mixed by the writer of Sleeping Dogs (that’s good!) and the director of Leprechaun: Origins (that’s bad), DRW doesn’t adapt the exploits of prior franchise protagonists Frank West, Chuck Greene, nor Nick Ramos. Instead, we’re introduced to our new Player One: Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe). Chase is a dickhead “ace reporter” for online news group Hit Point Digital (named so cuz, you know, video game jokes!) who are meant to be a “free of the mainstream bias” investigative show like “Vice”. Hero type guy’s only real concern is upping his YouTube view numbers, so he prefers to cover only the most Action Newsy of news stories. If I were to rank the man on the International Douche Bag Scale, he’d come in somewhere between a year’s supply of Massengill and a Convent-Sized bottle of Summer’s Eve.
His current assignment has him in the imaginary city of East Mission, Oregon to cover an outbreak of the living dead. Accompanied by his camera woman Jordan (Keegan Tracy), Dan Rather-Be-Reporting-Wholesale-Slaughter is unimpressed with reporting on quarantine inoculation tents when he could be where the action is, broadcasting the next Dawn of the Dead. While trying to dig up click bait, he zeroes his a-hole-vision in on attractive tough girl Crystal (Meghan Ory), who was bitten in a previous run-in with the walking deceased in “Fortune City” (thus connecting her to the events of Dead Rising 2). She manages to avoid the metamorphosis into a flesh-eater thanks to Zombrex: the only treatment to prevent a bite victim from checking off the “Undead” box on their next census form. ‘Brex is the product of sinister pharmaceutical group Phenotrans, as chronicled in the games and portrayed through whimsical animated commercials about little girls not wanting to become rotten cadaver beasts. So, yes, Dead Rising is just a big fat allegory about consumerism and corporate corruption…AGAIN. Look what you started, George Romero!
Speaking of sinister pharmaceuticals, despite the crowd being pumped full of Zombrex, otherwise normally normal norms start turning into flesh addicts left and right! Frenzy kicks in, everybody goes from zero-to-panicked before you can say “When there’s no more room in Hell”, and the whole things turns into your basic undead epidemic survival flick. A (small) population of extras in festerface declare that John Tucker must die (*wink*), so it’s up to our would-be-celebrity to pull his own butt bacon out of the proverbial fire with a little help from Crystal and Jordan. With a dash of mystery, a spoonful of conspiracy, a few rolls of duct tape, a grieving mother (Virginia Madsen), some military interference (as led by Dennis Haysbert!) and a heaping helping of motorcycle riding marauders led by a Mad Max refugee named Logan (Aleks Paunovic, looking kinda like a beefed out Jon Hamm in face paint), a zombie movie based on a video game based on zombie movies (and isn’t a Resident Evil sequel) is brought into the world. The meaning behind the title is explained in the finale (which I called about 5 minutes before the very same words escape the expository character’s lips) and since I don’t do spoilers on new movies, here’s a hint: it’s got nothing to do with Jimmie Hendrix, Jehovah’s Witnesses or a literal watchtower!
How does this gratis gorefest measure up to the yardstick established by the living dead cinema that came before? Does it go the full six feet deep, or does it deserve little better than a shallow grave from whence the scavengers can pick its bones? As much as I feel it should be offered special consideration for being a fee free affair, Crackle makes it a point to pelt us with frequent commercial breaks to shill the same 3 or 4 advertisements, so no free passes here. Shit, given the overwhelming deluge of corporate propaganda shoveled into my eyes, I’m tempted to shave a few points off! But, let’s do like Fox News promotes and keep things fair and balanced rather than doing like Fox News practices and making contradictory shit up for the sake of bias and bribery.
First things first, the whole shebang is shot on digital (remember, “Legendary Digital”) and looks like a TV show more so than a movie. Not great, but it’s cost effective. The gore is predominantly digital too, so again, not great but ya gotta pinch those pennies. On the plus side, the movie does hit all the Dead Rising boxes that were on my checklist: Serv Bot heads (albeit only in the form of a t-shirt and a prop rather than as a weapon); bloodthirsty marauders (or “psychopaths” as they were referred to in the games) to show us that humans will always be violent shit lords at the first sign of societal collapse; overarching conspiracy subplot; easter egg nods to the video games (including one of the zed words wearing Chuck’s jacket from DR2 and another getting a traffic cone jammed over its head); and the most important thing – DIY death dealers made by duct taping things to other things, then jamming them into the unliving masses! Former series good guy Frank West (Rob Riggle) also makes it into the showcase as a talking head on a news broadcast during the outbreak who pops in to make inappropriate comments, drop some survivalist tips (some taken straight from the Dead Rising game tutorial!), hit on his interviewer, and just generally bring the comedy tone that his character’s always been known for. He’s covered wars, you know!
I understand Frank being used as an ancillary character rather than straight up adapting his story for the screen. We already did that in DR. My only issue with him is Rob Riggle. Don’t mistake me, cuz I think Riggle’s great, but he seems to play all of his roles exactly the same. You never mistake who you’re seeing as actually being Frank West. You’re always very aware that the guy you’re watching is just Rob Riggle pretending to be Frank West as played by Rob Riggle. On the subject of the cast, everybody was pretty much serviceable. Though Meghan Ory was okay, her delivery of the line “Only an IDIOT wants to see a zombie!” is just silly enough to be memorable for the wrong reasons. I thought Carrie Genzel was a nice surprise as Susan, Frank’s exasperated interviewer who plays off of his antics with comical annoyance I can appreciate. Whether written for them or improvised, their rapport echoes my Evil Dead Bride and I, and lets them steal some of the best scenes in the movie.
As for Metcalfe, he actually surprised me. Not in the “Ow! I stepped on a thumbtack!” way, but in the “Oooo! I stepped on a thumbtack!” way that a masochist would experience it. Though Chase started off as a Frankensteinian amalgamation of human and douchebag, he becomes more man than bag as the story marches on. It’s not unexpected, as you presume most heroes who start off as a-holes to pull a face turn before the final act, but Watchtower goes about it in a way that feels less forced down your throat and more a natural, gradual way that eases itself courteously and comfortably past your tongue and down your gullet. Instead of dialog and poor characterization bludgeoning the point across, there are scenes here and there where Metcalfe shows vulnerability and empathy in Chase with simple facial expressions that get the job done and get it done well. Nothing award winning (unless you count the SpikeTV Scream Awards or Fangoria Chainsaw Awards), but I was shocked that someone who looks like a cross between Carson Daily and Taylor Lautner could impress me like that! Golf clap for you, Mr. Metcalfe. You’re not as big a shit-ass as you appear. Fun bit of trivia: Jesse Metcalfe plays a character named Chase here, and was also in the 2010 TV series “Chase”. Additionally, though he has no relation to “Roseanne” actress Laurie Metcalf (they’re forever separated by that “e”… and, you know, lineage), the two were both in “Desperate Housewives”… and now that I’ve wasted your time and attention span on shit that nobody gives a greasy fuck about, where were we?!
The music definitely could’ve been a bit punchier in places. For a fairly light-hearted affair, there are moments of living dead re-deadening that should’ve had something jumpier instead of the “sounds like Danny Elfman wrote it while on the toilet” generic instrumental blandness we’re given. Some scenes do it right, some don’t. It’s about half-and-half. The story is okay. It’s the same formulaic zomb-o-rama road map from Point A to Point B, while the reason for the outbreak is just absurd and sinister enough to fit the tone of the games. There are moments of frustration though, especially a scene where Chase, who wants to be the next Frank West (the Red Green of butchery), is told by Crystal that it’s time to turn a pawn shop full of everyday items into an armory of skull collapsing corpse shredders. Rather than living by the WWFD (What Would Frank Do) mantra, he just stands around with his thumb up his ass going “A weapon? What weapons?! This place is full of junk!”. I guess he just idolizes people based on a rudimentary grasp of their work, instead of knowing ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT THEM. Like conservative christian republicans who emulate Ayn Rand without bothering to find out that she was an atheist who lived on welfare. Der to the fucking ERP. As for the movie’s direction… yikes.
There’s a LOT of shaky cam shit. Friends and longtime readers know the searing intestinal pain I suffer in the presence of shaky cam. Especially BAD shaky cam like this. Shaky cam that comes off so OBVIOUS that it’s directed and nothing like the intended “make the audience feel like they’re IN THE MOVIE!” bend it’s supposed to supply. Wanna see it done right? Watch Quarantine. Here it’s too structured. It never feels like the cameras are handheld. All I can see in my head during these shots is the operator holding it on a mounted base and jostling it around while director Zach Lipovsky, decked with a big shit-eating grin and a sideways Leprechaun: Origin crew hat, pats them on the back and sweats an over ambitious excitement belying the lines he snorted in an on-set Port-a-John between takes.
The only thing worse than the shaky-cam is the “inanimate object PoV shot” visual nonsense. Imagine Sam Raimi’s revolutionary “smash cam” technique, only instead of putting a camera on a pole and ramming it through stuff or into people’s faces for affordable-yet-intense movie magic, they just strapped the thing to a broken piece of traffic barricade and dropped it on the ground. If this was meant as a joke on the aforementioned Raimi technique, then kudos to you, Lipovksy. But you should’ve kept it to one or two shots, NOT the overkill extents to which you go. If you were doing it as a way to make the weapons a “character” in the movie (given their integral emphasis in the games), you’re reaching a little beyond your abilities and you fucked it up. And if you just thought it’d be cool to look at, well, you’re a dipshit. Movies can be all about style over substance (Michael Bay’s made a career of it!), but when your style is pairing plaids with polka dots and wearing a big pink Easter bonnet on your dick, you’re in the wrong business.
Now, as with anything, there’s always an exception. We live in a contrary world, and there’s a reason that “a broken clock is right twice a day” is such a popular cliché. There’s one excellent scene where the music fits and the camera work is even better. Chase, who needs to cross a street well populated with the hungry rotted jaws of the de-deceased, fights his way through a small crowd of z-bags. No one ever told him that the shortest way between two points was a straight line, so his jaywalking journey turns into an extended sequence of maiming and escaping while the camera pans around him, follows him onto an (almost) abandoned school bus, through an emergency door onto a car, then OVER the bus to another parked car before he finally slips away. It’s easily my favorite scene in the movie. It either deserves to be in a better flick or just makes the rest of the run time look flaccid in comparison. Except for the brief respite where Virginia Madsen confronts a zombie in a wheelchair, which “stands” great on its own. Not to be that person, but if ground zero for the zombie outbreak is at the Special Olympics or a VA hospital, we’re safe. Idris Elba would just walk in, push ’em all down, shout “THE ZOMPOCALYPSE IS CANCELLED!”, and burn the place to the ground. The world’s shortest horror show.
Please don’t send me messages about how I’m now going to Hell for making a joke about zombified handicapped people and disfigured living dead veterans. I live in the fucking Underworld. If you really wanted to scare me, condemn me to roadie-ing a Backstreet Boys reunion tour or to a reoccurring role on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.
As a video game movie, I give Dead Rising: Watchtower four joysticks out of five. As a movie movie, meh, I give it three. It’s a LOT better than most would expect it to be, but as someone who loved the games, I can’t say for sure what casual horror movie viewers will think, and die-hards will probably dismiss it as just another zomedy. To be honest, watching it really got me into a mood to go back and partake in some ghoul mauling merrymaking of my own more than anything, so as a two hour commercial (beset with tons of other commercials, ironically enough), it works! Too bad there isn’t a new game to promote alongside its release. But, it just goes to remind me that I have more fun playing video games than watching video games.
Before I disappear into the Eldritch ether that surrounds my Tomb again, last week was Wrestlemania! And the best news to come out of the entire rigmarole? WWE has formed an unholy alliance with none other than Gene “the Tongue” Simmons to create Erebus Pictures: a production studio dedicated to making “elevated” horror flicks, whatever the fuck type of marketing speak that means. For those (like myself) who were hoping their first collaboration would be KISS Meets the Phantom of the Arena, in which the band’s wrestling avatar The Demon (click here to arm yourselves with knowledge!) would battle the angry specter of Chris Benoit using the power of ROCK!, I’m sorry to say that’s not the case. Their actual first release will be the languidly titled Temple, about a special forces unit trapped inside of a military compound whose previous occupants all died under the always obtuse prospect of “mysterious circumstances”. I’m going to be very sad if all three of their releases ended up being “same old shit” plumbing pluggers not even worth the gold found in literal feces. But, even if they are, they’ll still likely to provide plenty of fools’ nuggets for me to mine!
Oh, and on a final final note, my thanks to the mighty El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours for name dropping the Tomb in a recent review! If there’s one thing I love having my name associated with, it’s movies with names like Sexsquatch: the Legend of Bloody Stool Creek. Had I a hat, Sir, I would tip it to you verily. Fight the good fight every moment. Every minute. Every day. Fight the good fight every moment. It’s your only way.
Zombrex is actually short for “Zombrections”, the first erectile dysfunction drug for the living dead. Because even stiffs need help getting stiff sometimes!
Starting off strong with something for all my Coulrophobics and Kinemortophobics in the house!
Jesse Metcalfe has high hopes for his “Constantine” audition. Spoiler: he doesn’t get the part.
If “God” hates zombies so much, how do you explain Lazarus and Jesus!?
“No, Susan, I will not be replacing John Stewart as host of ‘The Daily Show‘. Also, for the third time, I’m not Jason Jones! Next question, please!”
Zach Lipovsky, FINALLY giving people the inanimate objects’ view of events!
They’re not reacting in horror to the zombies. The TV they’re watching just showed the Paul Blart 2 commercial.
A pair of guys atop a wall pointing assault rifles at otherwise harmless non-white people? It’s the republicans’ wet dreams for what to do with our borders, come to life!
That plastic head seems to be REALLY pumped about the store’s “Low Down Payments” policy, or their selection of tapes and/or neon signs promoting said selection.
That peanut butter sandwich is painted up like a WHORE!… and it’s making my pants tight.
With “Mad Men” now ending, Jon Hamm prepares himself for a role in the next Mad Max movie! … Oh wait, this is just a picture of him from his recent stint in rehab. Honest mistake.
“Well, if I can’t convince you to enroll in the US Army, can I at least tell you about Allstate’s Accident Forgiveness policy?!”
Anubis will return next time in
“How Sweet” (For real this time!)
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All materials found within this review are the intellectual properties and opinions of the original writer. The Tomb of Anubis claims no responsibility for the views expressed in this review, but we do lay a copyright claim on it beeyotch, so don’t steal from this shit or we’ll have to go all Farmer Vincent on your silly asses. © October 1st 2013 and beyond, not to be reproduced in any way without the express written consent of the reviewer and The Tomb of Anubis, or pain of a physical and legal nature will follow. Touch not lest ye be touched.