Many years back, Seth Grahame-Smith helped found the mash-up genre that began (or seems to have begun) with his book combining Jane Austin and zombies. Cause, let’s face it, it couldn’t hurt the book. Apologies for those that like Austin, but I’m on the record as not being one of her fans. The problem is, he really can’t write; certainly he can’t write as competently as Austin. PP&Z was simply a cute idea that hit at the right time.
With the movie, my hope was that it could even out the writing and the tale itself into something a bit more polished and interesting. Well, not so much.
There are inherent challenges in the story. First, taking genteel ladies and making them into warriors, but somehow retaining their base nature and politeness. Second, providing an historical setting and set of relationships that remains somehow the same as the Austin original in terms of manners, but adjusts for the zombie apocalypse. Frankly, it could be done, but the drive at that point for marriage is for one of protection and strength rather than money and royal position. But that isn’t what was put on screen. Instead it is intended more as a comedy romp with minimal credibility in the world building. A shame, really, as it could have been both.
The cast navigate the twisted world and motivations they are provided really rather well. The two leads, Sam Riley (Maleficent) and Lily James (Cinderella) embrace their characters. Riley does come across as a Darcy transformed for this world. James a bit less so, but mostly due to script. James has the unfortunate task, as do her screen sisters, of flipping back and forth between warrior chick and debutante with little integration allowed by writer/director Steers. He took on a much bigger challenge than he likely realized for his first major film and somewhat failed by not owning the new interpretation more.
There are some entertaining performances outside these two. Bella Heathcote (In Time), Charles Dance (Victor Frankenstein), Matt Smith (Terminator: Genisys), and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) in particular. But, with the exception of Heathcote, they are all wildly caricature amid a semi-realistic plot, which left them looking a bit clownish.
For a couple hours of distraction… along the lines of a long Saturday Night Live sketch… it may serve its purpose for you. If you need a good comedy zombie movie, check out Fido, Shaun of the Dead, or even Cockneys vs Zombies and Zombieland. Each of these is more cohesive and better done, with plenty of action and laughs.