These days, who doesn’t like even an acceptable zombie picture? You get yourself a pack of the Undead. You put ‘em on any countryside. You turn ‘em loose, and you tell ‘em to go hunting for some brains to eat. Viola! Instant motion picture! I didn’t say it would necessarily make any money, but, given zombies apparently popularity on the boob tube in THE WALKING DEAD and on the silver screen with WORLD WAR Z (which, incidentally, was adapted from a vastly more awesome novel), you’re likely to put some butts in the seats … and that’s exactly what you can expect from a direct-to-DVD release titled CODE RED.
From the box art, I can tell you that it promises a virtual Zombie Armageddon. Does it rise to such high aspirations? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Those buggers in World War II! We’ve known all along that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party were behind all kinds of dastardly science … but who would’ve guessed so was Stalin?! CODE RED’s story reveals that ol’ Uncle Joe himself never stopped trying to create the perfect soldier, and apparently scientists in his employ developed a top secret nerve gas that would strip afflicted men of their ability to reason and turn them into the perfect killing machines! Unfortunately, Stalin’s stockpile went missing. Seventy years later, some nasty Bulgarians find it, and, unless US Special Forces Captain John McGahey (played by the affable Paul Logan) and comely NATO physician Ana Bennett (a downright ravishing Manal El-Feitury) can stop them, they’ll bring about the end of the world as we know it!
Yes. Yes. Yes. Everything about CODE RED just practically screams low budget B-flick, and, for the most part, I think that’s an accurate assessment. As is often the case in good B pictures, you get a macho lead (Logan) and a lovely kinda/sorta sidekick (El-Feitury), but that’s where RED does trod some new ground. Granted, it doesn’t do so probably as effectively as writer/director Valeri Milev would’ve liked – or even as much as the audience would’ve liked – but it ends up being mostly fine-and-dandy as a one-off thrill fest so far as this humble reviewer is concerned.
The problem is the two leads spend very little time together, and, as such, they develop no real chemistry, much less a relationship. Milev’s story (co-written with Matthew Waynee) instead introduces a few other characters – another military man, as well as giving Dr. Bennett a daughter, Miriam (a fresh-faced Mya-Lecia Naylor who’s not so ‘fresh-faced’ come the ending) – and RED tries very hard to be something it probably was never meant to be: a zombie-centric character drama in a B-movie package.
Also, Milev’s direction is put through its paces by essentially requiring the man to adopt different thematic strategies to different sections of the film. For example, the opening set-up involves telling that story of Stalin’s soldiers in Stalingrad during World War II, and – because it’s what studio executives practically demand these days – it’s all captured in typical herky-jerky SAVING PRIVATE RYAN style cinematography. That wouldn’t be so bad if it just didn’t feel so obviously derivative of a much grander film (one most decidedly without zombies, too, last I checked). Once this set-up is dispensed with, Milev takes audiences to present day, and, unfortunately, his direction ends up feeling very blasé and unusually uninspired. One might even suggest that Milev didn’t care all that much about giving this modern nightmare as much creative attention (using fade-outs when quicker cuts were needed to heighten the tension), so CODE RED suffers its own “code red” as a consequence.
Still, I enjoyed the idea of this li’l zombie pic trying to grow up and be something that it wasn’t. As a standard B flick, I enjoyed it well enough. It won’t win any awards. It won’t convert fans to B movies. But it offers up enough plot and action to keep you interested for most of its 94 minutes … and that should count for something these days.
CODE RED  is produced by Indi Films, Indifilms, and eOne Television. DVD distribution is being handled by Entertainment One (aka E One). As for the technical specifications, the film is constructed with some good sights and sounds, though I’ll admit that the roaming handicam of the Stalingrad was a bit hard on the senses (thankfully, it only lasts about 15 minutes). If it’s special features you want, then you have a making-of featurette along with some WWII Uncut sequences and outtakes to look forward to: there’s nothing there of much depth, but this isn’t SCHINDLER’S LIST, after all.
RECOMMENDED. CODE RED is probably exactly what you think you’re getting. It’s the average zombie flick put together by the average cast and crew and it’s all brought to a suitable climax quite averagely. It’s meant to give you some modest entertainment and then go back to the video store. Don’t expect much, and you’re liable to have as much fun with it as I did. Plus, it never hurts to have a lady as easy on the eyes as Manal El-Feitury to stare at for 90 minutes. Pardon me, ladies, if my sexuality is showing.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Entertainment One (aka E One) provided me with a DVD copy of CODE RED by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.