So many attempts have been made by Hollywood to create a movie from a video game (Doom, Super Mario Brothers, Max Payne) and vice versa (Alien, Indiana Jones, The Evil Dead, Jaws) that have been so so bad, that my expectations were pretty low going into this newest fare.
Dead Rising: Watchtower is the live action adaptation of the hugely popular video game series Dead Rising, by game giant Capcom. And I have to say, right from the get go– I was pleasantly surprised! Not only did it not suck, it was actually very entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong. There was plenty in this two hour film that will ensure it will never be hoisted up into the realm of Romero or even The Walking Dead any time soon. But as average zombie fare goes, it was actually above average.
The story follows online reporter Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe) and his camerawoman Jordon (Keegan Connor Tracy) as they cover the stories of the people inside of the walled-in quarantined area in Oregon, as the government (FEZA – Federal Emergency Zombie Authority) attempts to contain a viral outbreak that turns people into ravenous zombies. An anti-viral drug called Zombrex, that keeps the virus at bay, is being administered to those infected. When it becomes clear that the drug is no longer effective, Chase, Jordon, grieving mother Maggie (Virginia Madsen), and survivor, Crystal (Meghan Ory) battle their way to a pawn shop, and temporary safety. But Crystal has a dark secret, and the army has a hidden agenda.
This the perfect set up that turns the movie back into the video game. All manner of weapons can be fashioned from things in the pawn shop of course… and well, they are. A garbage can lid gets protruding blades, anything with a long handle gets a pike, a sledge hammer head, or a tree-limb rotary saw attached to each end, making for plenty of weapon-point-of-view camera shots later on. Case in point: a continuous tracking shot with no cut-aways that follows Chase through a horde, into a bus, out of the bus, onto a car, on top of the bus, all the while battling the undead with his tree-limb rotary saw and baseball bat. Marvelous!
While the main characters do a decent job as beleaguered protagonists, some of the best performances are by the supporting cast. These include Aleks Paunovic as a Mad Max-style biker gang leader who wants to rule the world with his minions, and the always entertaining Rob Riggle as hotshot Frank West, who has already survived one outbreak, being interviewed (and being a jack-ass) on the UBN news broadcasts, interspersed throughout the movie.
I would like to have seen more visceral carnage (there’s plenty of zombie-killing, but mostly CGI blood, and not nearly enough amputations). Through the use of the many improvised weapons, there are quite a number of inventive kills, but one stands out for me. It’s a shot of a wandering zombie-dad chowing down on the remains of his child who is strapped to his chest in a baby front-pack– kind of like a feed bag.
The lack of true gore was obviously a budgetary constraint, but this was definitely not a low-budget affair. A few more practical “Walking Dead-style” effects would have upped the ante for me. That might be my only real complaint.
I read a couple of pretty scathing reviews, but I think they just didn’t get it. Dead Rising, Watchtower stays pretty true to the video game, which was its obvious intent. There are plenty of shout-outs to the game itself, like Chase donning a servbot helmet t-shirt, and one zombie getting “traffic-coned.” There is probably too much plot for its own good (I can’t believe I’m saying that) making it feel like a hodgepodge of ideas that could have played out over the run of a television series (which is in the works, by the way).
Is it worth watching? For fans of the game, absolutely! It’s entertaining and free on Crackle right now. Will you find it entertaining? It depends on the mindset you go into it with.