THE WASHINGTON POST – Army of the Dead is a bit of a tease. Set in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak – albeit one that has been neatly contained to a Las Vegas that’s been walled off behind a barricade of shipping containers stacked three high – it also begins with the promise of something extra: a heist-flick-ready subplot.
There’s USD200 million sitting in a casino vault, ripe for the taking, if Dave Bautista’s tough but tender short-order cook Scott Ward can assemble a crew to help him get in, grab the cash and get out before the government drops a low-grade nuke on the blighted ghetto in 32 hours.
A quarter of that cash goes to Scott, who lost his wife in the original outbreak, and who gets to divvy up the money as he sees fit, with the rest set aside for the shadowy mastermind who’s bankrolling the operation (Hiroyuki Sanada).
“Mastermind” and “bankrolling” are probably the wrong words. Scott and his diverse crew of 10 (Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer, Omari Hardwick, Raúl Castillo, Nora Arnezeder, Samantha Win, Garret Dillahunt, Colin Jones and Ella Purnell as Scott’s estranged daughter) are given little in the way of guidance or equipment, other than a pile of guns, knives, a chain saw and some explosives. It’s blunt force nearly all the way, save for some upfront “negotiation” with the zombie “queen” (Athena Perample), in the form of a human offering (Theo Rossi) that buys the commandos a bit of a truce.
Their plan beyond that? Schweighöfer is there to crack the safe, and Notaro is the grease monkey/pilot tasked with shepherding the squad to safety. Their exit strategy? A nearly trashed helicopter that’s been rotting on a casino roof for months. So much for “Oceans 11 and Zombies.”
There’s precious little of the trickery and finesse here that one would expect from a heist flick, and almost no real skill, other than the kind that involves shooting or stabbing undead flesh-eaters in the head. (A bit of ancillary backstabbing and treachery is to be expected.)
Castillo’s Guzman is especially adept at dispatching “shamblers”, as the slower versions of the zombies are known. In the manner of a video game player, he posts clips of his shooting prowess to social media, and the two and a half hour film, which is about an hour longer than necessary, resembles a prolonged playing session of Resident Evil. Apparently director Zack Snyder, in the wake of his four-hour director’s cut of Justice League, is incapable of making a film that doesn’t require a bathroom break.
I like zombie movies as much as the next guy, but let’s be honest: There’s filler here. One character accuses Scott of agreeing to the mission as a pretext for reconnecting with his daughter, and that’s not entirely off-base. The father-daughter theme just wastes time, taking focus away from the exploding-head shots, which are pretty cool – and, let’s face it, what everyone really wants to see. The domestic drama, like the heist story line, fizzles out in the end.