Friday, May 8, 2015


Opening at Arizona Mills this weekend: 

MaggieAbigail Breslin plays the title role, a Midwest farmer’s daughter who’s been bitten and infected during a cannibal zombie plague. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Wade, the farmer, who has brought her home from the hospital to wait out the four-to-six week period before she undergoes “The Turn” and becomes “necroambular.”

Directed by Henry Hobson from a script by John Scott 3, this is an austere, low-key horror drama that attempts to depict what a zombie apocalypse would really look like. It’s broodingly atmospheric and well-acted. I don’t know if Schwarzenegger is a better actor than he used to be or if age has just given him more weather-beaten gravitas, but either way he’s a strong presence here. His understated star turn is genuinely poignant, and Breslin does fine work as well, as does Joely Richardson as Maggie’s stepmom.

The movie is very well done on its own terms, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. There’s almost no action to speak of, and, because the situation seems pretty hopeless from the start, not much suspense. There’s a scene in which Maggie has a date with a similarly infected boy that’s rather good, and the last five minutes or so are redemptively touching, but other than that, the movie offers Schwarzenegger’s haggard, haunted visage as he helplessly watches his beautiful, fresh-faced daughter turn into a corpse. It wasn’t my idea of fun.

But perhaps Maggie’s lack of fun is a sign of integrity. The zombie genre has burgeoned so much in the last twenty years partly because it’s an economical way to make a horror picture, and partly because it’s proven more resonant than would have been guessed. But it’s also expanded, I think, because of a queasy enthusiasm that some fans show for the anything-goes world it depicts—especially, I fear, an enthusiasm for the opportunity to shoot people in the head with impunity.

Maggie can be seen as a reproach to the idea that a zombie plague would be cool—a reminder that it would be, rather, mostly about people witnessing the loss of their loved ones. What The Road was to the post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movie, Maggie is to the zombie movie.

Hot PursuitSofia Vergara’s shtick works for me; I find her elongated, nasal, whining vowel sounds and her sense of tempestuous grievance sexy and funny. And while Reese Witherspoon has never been a special favorite of mine, her work in Wild and Election and other films shows that she’s a formidable actress.

So it would take a lot for a movie to rob these two of their appeal. Yet this wretched chase comedy manages the impressive feat.

Witherspoon is a high-strung, hyper-by-the-book San Antonio cop, and Vergara is the protected witness against a drug lord she must transport to Dallas to testify. Various goons shoot at them and chase them in cars.

Conventional though this is, there’s nothing very wrong with it as the premise for a buddy comedy. There’s nothing terribly wrong, even, with the way the director, Anne Fletcher, shapes some of the action scenes. But the dialogue is vacuous, and the two leads, perhaps sensing no help from the writing, push their personas to cartoonish extremes.

The resulting antics are excruciatingly unfunny. In fairness, I suppose I should report that the screening audience with whom I saw the film seemed to be having a fairly good time. But I’m very indulgent when it comes to lowbrow comedy, and I’m not sure that Hot Pursuit made me laugh out loud a single time.

The great Jim Gaffigan has a minor role, and even he didn’t make me laugh. When Jim Gaffigan doesn’t make you laugh, it means the movie isn’t working.

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