Starring Bill Murray. Rated 14A
In Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 feature Broken Flowers, someone leaves a CD of Ethiopian jazzer Mulatu Astatke in the rental car Bill Murray takes across country.
Fourteen years later, Murray drives again, as world-weary sheriff Cliff Robertson, patrolling the usually peaceful Centerville. This time the soundtrack is provided by country-grunger Sturgill Simpson, who sings the film’s title song about a dozen times.
Repetition, deadpan delivery, and irregular rhythms are hallmarks of Jarmusch’s art. They came together gracefully in 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive, which turned the vampire flick into poetic commentary on civilization’s collapse.
Here, the veteran indie director tackles the much broader zombie genre, with mixed results.
Adam Driver, who starred in Jarmusch’s unusually straightforward Paterson, is a welcome presence as the laid-back chief’s earnest, somewhat heartless young deputy. Between them in age and temperament is a timid officer played by Chloe Sevigny.
This trio is the bulwark protecting their tiny town (actually upstate New York) when grisly things suddenly start happening.
Raised on B-movies and video games, millennials instantly recognize a zombie attack when it happens while older folk look for more rational explanations.
In the style of ‘50s scare classics, these come on the radio, from critics of “polar fracking”, which may have thrown the earth off its axis—a notion government officials dismiss as fake science. The undead don’t care, and we soon see them gnawing their way through the locals, en route to things they enjoyed before the rot set in.
Notable among the reanimated are Iggy Pop, who enjoys both a diner waitress and her bottomless coffee, and the songster Simpson, spotted dragging an old guitar by its strings.
Later, more Z-people are seen searching for wi-fi hot spots. That’s funny. But does Jarmusch know that the suffocating consumerism and societal ignorance he’s spoofing were already tackled by George Romero, Samuel Fuller, and other filmmakers he openly evokes here?
Watching over all this downbeat mayhem (the zombs emit black dust when struck) is the local hermit, with Tom Waits unrecognizable in matted dreadlocks that make him look like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.
Recalling elvish Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings, ex-vampire Tilda Swinton is a white-haired undertaker with unexpected samurai skills. The meta-references pile up to the point where Driver even nods to his own Star Wars character.
The effect is something like a David Lynch movie taken over by Kevin Smith in mid-production. If the results don’t quite add up to a fully satisfying addition to a time-honoured shlock tradition, they at least offer a stellar cast (with many surprise cameos) doing its part to keep the darkness at bay.