Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'Zombie Cop' should stay in the grave

Zombie Cop (1991)
Starring: Michael Kemper, James Black, Bill Morrison and Ken Jarosz
Director: Lance Randas (aka J.R. Bookwalter)
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Dr. Death, a psychopathic, drug-dealing, child-murdering Voodoo shaman (Black), kills and curses his nemisis, a police detective named Gil (Kemper), causing him to rise from the grave and walk the Earth as a self-aware zombie. With the help of his former partner (Jarosz), the undead cop sets out to find a way to undo the curse and stop the evil of Dr. Death once and for all.

"Zombie Cop" is one of those sad movies that has a fun idea as its origin point, but which is so badly executed that it's hard to even give the creators the consideration they're due for even making the attempt. Some amateurish productions still manage to succeed on raw talent... but there doesn't seem to be much talent here, raw or otherwise.

(Yes, James Black went onto be part of some pretty high profile projects--as well as more movies will Bookwalter--and he's put on some good shows, but this film is the very definition of "inauspicious beginnings". Not to mention unprofessional beginnings if you can trust the audio commentary by producer/director J.R. Bookwalter. Apparently Black was just making up his lines and character as he went without having even read the script. If this is true, it explains some of the illogical and disconnected "facts" Dr. Death reveals about himself as he rambles on.)

Aside from the awful acting, weak camera work, bad editing and atrocious musical score, the film is padded with the obligatory driving scenes and overlong build-ups to the action scenes. Bookwalter also pads his film with the absolute worst of padding sins... on more than one occasion he included what was obvious intended as two different takes of the same scene, with the actors delivering their lines and/or doing their actions more than once as the camera kept rolling. The most blatant of these is the scene where the heroes are reviewing the facts they know about Dr. Death... and they have the same exchange with some slight variations twice in a row.

All of this padding is in a movie that barely clears sixty minutes worth of running time. "Zombie Cop" truly is 35 minutes of excitement crammed into 60 minutes of running time.

And I haven't even touched on the incredibly offensive "comic relief character" in the form of a badly written and performed even worse stereotypical "towelhead" convenience store clerk. This element of the film was so lazily and cheapily done that the white guy in black face trying to pass himself off as a Hindu is literally wearing a towel on his head. As regular readers know, I'm not one to take offense at cartoony ethnic characters, but this one is so badly done that it offended me in every possible way. I almost knocked the film down a point just for that character, but decided that it was a symptom of the overall awfulness of the script and just let it go.

As bad a job as Bookwalter and friends do with this movie, they do manage to get a few things right... and these things keep the movie at the bottom end of a 3 rating.

I appreciate the fact that the production crew was intelligent enough to look at their resources--both financial and talent-wise--and create the movie's effects and action scenes accordingly.

Clearly, no one on the film was much of a make-up artist... and, even more clearly, there was neither the time nor the money to apply even the basic make-up that would have made the zombie cop seem convincing as a walking dead man to the audience. So, they took the very intelligent step of wrapping him up like a mummy, thus avoiding the need for make-up entirely except in two scenes.

Also, no one on the film was much of a fight choreographer, nor were any of the actors particularly skilled at stage fighting, so the fisticuffs were kept to a minimum and attempts at creative editing was used to make the fights and the violence seem exciting.

Still, the number of things they got wrong far outnumber the things they got right. Even the director/producer himself acknowledges this is a pretty awful movie, as he reissued it on DVD as part of Tempe's "Bad Movie Police" series. This series consists of films directed and/or produced by Bookwalter in the 1990s and it purports to be "evidence" against cinematic terrorists that have been collected by a special branch of law enforcement devoted to protecting the public from unwatchable movies.

While it's great that Bookwalter can laugh at himself (and make a few more bucks in the process), it isn't enough to make this movie worth your time. It's not so bad it's good... it's just bad.

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