For Those Who Like Their Satires Unfocused and Gory
Apr 18, 2010
If a political commentary is to succeed, especially if it's a comedy, it cannot simply point at a target and pump it full of lead. It must also be clear on what it's speaking out against and why, and it must go about it thoughtfully and intelligently. The great failure of "ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction" is that aims at everyone, regardless of political orientation. It gives the appearance of an attack against conservative American values, but at the same time, it takes potshots at progressive ideas and the people who support them, so in the end, everyone looks weak, unfocused, and just plain stupid. Are the filmmakers saying, then, that politics in general turns us into zombies, like the ones roaming the streets feeding on flesh? They may be right in that some of us are mindless and ignorant, but they're wrong in that it applies to everyone.
Part of the problem is that the zombies exist as a metaphor for far too many social issues, including racial intolerance, homophobia, ignorance of world affairs, terrorism, religious fanaticism, the electoral process, and family values. At a certain point, it becomes exhausting trying to figure out exactly what political point is being made. Another problem is that, so far as I can tell, most of the subplots would have been just fine without the presence of the zombie metaphor - it provides little apart from an excuse for relentless gore, which is so over the top that it surpasses humor and becomes monotonous. After it was over, I felt as if nothing of political or social relevance had been said, not even with the inclusion of obvious imagery and one-liners.
The setting is a small community called Port Gamble, located on an island off the coast of Washington State. The white picket fences and neatly manicured lawns give it the appearance of Normal Rockwell Americana, but appearances can be deceiving. Stepping back into it are Tom Hunt (Doug Fahl) and Lance Murphy (Cooper Hopkins), a gay couple. They're visiting from New York in order to finally come out to Tom's mother, although Tom is deathly afraid of how she will react. In the meantime, he would prefer it if Lance acted straight. When we finally do meet Tom's mother, the zombie metaphor works its way in, although not successfully; you'd have to be pretty dense to not recognize a zombie when you see one, especially when it's someone you love.
After the zombies have taken over, they find themselves locked in a church with regulars who, for reasons I can't begin to understand, have been unaware of the situation. Also in the church are two mayoral candidates (James Mesher and Linda Jensen) and a reverend (Bill Johns), who all debate the zombie situation in obvious political undertones, specifically as it relates to the status of American gays. I guess I got their point, although I can't say it was made cleverly. Ultimately, the characters of Tom and Lance do little more than perpetuate gay stereotypes, and not in a way that's funny, satirical, or politically motivated.
Another important character is Frida Abbas (Janette Armand), an Iranian American everyone assumes is Iraqi. Immediately, we see what the filmmakers were getting at: She was born in this country, and yet everyone expects her to look, sound, and behave as if she were from the Middle East, including her father (Ali Hamedani), who wants her to be proud of her heritage. She crosses paths with Joe Miller (Russell Hodgkinson), who starts out as a mere conservative but devolves into a paranoid, delusional maniac once the zombies start attacking. It doesn't help that the TV continuously flashes news reports that the infection was probably the result of a terrorist plot. In due time, Joe has Frida tied to a chair in his basement, employing interrogation tactics that could never been seen as funny, not after all the news surrounding the appalling treatment of suspected terrorists in foreign countries.
George A. Romero has proven time and time again that zombie movies are useful for social and political commentaries, so I'm puzzled as to why Kevin Hamedani and his co-writer Ramon Isao couldn't make "ZMD" work. Why did they feel that everyone should be a target for ridicule? The tone of their film is not one of message making but of nihilism, the sense that it's pointless to care about anything because there's nothing worth caring about. This is something that no amount of explicit gore can gloss over. I suppose this movie had all the right ingredients, but it's useless if no one bothers to mix them together properly. "ZMD" is not the clever satire it wanted to be; it's a silly, mean-spirited, brutal, uneven mess, lacking the ability to choose which side it wants to make fun of more.
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Zombies continue to prove their applicability to all genres with the low-budget political comedyZombies of Mass Destruction, which pits a conservative small town--and its few liberal citizens--against an army of the walking and ravenous dead. Director Kevin Hamedani's obvious template is George Romero's zombie series, which uses the flesh eaters to address all manner of social ills, but neither Hamedani's targets nor his protagonists have much meat on their bones--his heroes are defined largely by what sets them apart from the rest of the town (Iranian, gay, liberal) and his antagonists are cartoonish neocons and intolerant religious types, both of which have been done to death, and by better filmmakers. Once the living dead start popping up, the film gains some momentum, and the tone turns broad and bloody, but again,Shaun of the Deadand Peter Jackson'sDead Alivedid the zombie comedy with greater verve. What's left are a few amusing moments of splatter humor (one involving a young girl and a speeding car is both shocking and hilarious) and little else. TheZombies of Mass DestructionDVD, which is part of the fourth After Dark Horrorfest series, includes a short featurette that discusses Hamedani's reasons for making the film, which are more politically charged than anything in the picture itself.--Paul Gaita