Dawn of the Dead
Where would the movies be without George Romero? His Pittsburgh-produced zombie films of the 1970s can without too much of a stretch be held responsible for the flowering of movies by everybody from David Cronenberg to James Cameron. The new incarnation - a remake of Romero's 1979 "Dawn of the Dead" - actually works from Romero's old screenplay, with the new version written by James Gunn and directed by Zack Snyder. It stars the Canadian actress Sarah Polley and the old reliable Ving Rhames, as the leaders of a group of humans retreating to a mall in Milwaukee, under attack by the undead. And just so you know where I stand, I loved the film.
There's always the question of how you get these things started so that we can suspend our disbelief and get with the program. "Dawn of the Dead" doesn't bother wasting our time with explanations that wouldn't make sense anyway; Polley just comes home from two consecutive shifts as an ER nurse at the hospital, only to find her guy's been bitten by an undead zombie, who gave him a virus that will kill him and let him rise to bite again. People are going crazy, running into cars, getting smashed like bugs on the windshield, and God knows what else. Chased by a mob of the zombies, she joins the fugitives holed up inside a closed mall (question: do malls actually close in the daytime?), where we have the usual microcosm of humanity: Rhames, a tough, experienced cop; an interracial/intercultural couple, Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his wife the very pregnant Russian Luda (Inna Korobkina); the three-failed-marriages-and-out Michael (Jake Weber); and the obligatory know-nothing mall security team headed by CJ (Michael Kelly).
Their job is to keep the dead out and themselves alive. Unlike the original film, these zombies are fast on their feet; they can even drive trucks to try and smash the delivery doors of the mall. What saves the film from predictable boredom is the insertion of some delicious and unexpected sidelights: From the roof of the mall they spot a guy on the roof of his gun shop. He and Rhames play chess by holding up signs with their moves on them. He's got guns and ammunition but no food. All communication is by these signs. They spot Jay Leno among the undead. "Shoot him," signs Rhames. He does. And so on. They even manage to deliver food to him via a dog carrying saddlebags; the zombies don't recognize dogs. And the music is a treat; a wonderful selection of mall muzak, with each song used as ironic contrast to the action. You laugh out loud at the juxtapositions.
So you ask why are they in Milwaukee? Well, Milwaukee is on Lake Michigan, and there just might be a boat that just might take them to an island where the dead haven't yet, you know, if only you could get from the mall to the lake. Go and enjoy.