Land of the Dead (2005)
aka George A. Romero's Land of the Dead
Written and directed by George A. Romero

I imagine there are plenty of zombies out there who will go to see Land of the Dead expecting a sequel to the Dawn of the Dead remake, and will be confused by its comparative lower-budget look and more heavy-handed social commentary. Props to George Romero for staying true to his vision of what this series is about … but while I can appreciate what he's doing, I must say, I really would rather just see non-stop zombie carnage and shit blowing up.

Which is not to say Land of the Dead doesn't provide a lot of both. But the glorious gore is tempered by Romero's exceedingly blatant politicking, which in some ways is admirable, but in many other ways is completely tedious. I'm not sure we need the story of the Bush Jr. administration told via zombie movie. And if Zombie 9/11 was actually called for, a little subtlety would have been appreciated.

To his credit, Romero has, at least, provided more blood-n-guts stomach-churn here than in the extremely talky Day of the Dead. The zombies look great, including several funny ones, such as a cheerleader with a huge hole in her cheek, and, for the first time (that I'm aware of, at least), a zombie clown! And there are some terrific gross-out gags, including one scene were a zombie reaches into a dead human's mouth and yanks out some organic goodness on which to feast.

However, the storyline is so transparently metaphorical that I felt like my intelligence was being insulted. The zombie plague has now overtaken the land, leaving the well-heeled to set up Utopian communities of pure denial, reflected by ruthless rich guy Dennis Hopper and his skyscraper "Fiddler's Green," where the wealthy can mingle, shop, and live their lives under the pretense that the zombie thing is no real dilemma. Of course, they can't leave the tower – and Romero reminds us of this by showing the requisite "bird in a gilded cage" shot … twice.

Hopper has helped to fund an underground army to stave off the zombies, including upstanding Riley (Simon Baker, who looks like a cross between Jack Wagner and Ryan Seacrest) and loose-cannon Cholo (John Leguizamo, doing his people no good deed by playing a Latino character named "Cholo"). The zombies have just started to learn how to communicate and re-learn their former human talents (firing guns, for example), so Hopper wants the situation contained. He utilizes fireworks to distract the zombies, since zombies can't help but be amazed by fireworks (subtle!).

Unfortunately, he alienates Cholo, who decides it's time to take the rich white guy down – by stealing a tank-like vehicle Hopper funded and aiming its missiles at the skyscraper … from a convenient position in a nearby oil yard (with barrels clearly marked "oil"). As this pseudo-World Trade Center allegory plays out, the zombies advance on the tower as well (passing by egregiously visible "No More War!" posters plastered along the city streets).

Riley (the well-meaning representative of "the troops" manages to stop Cholo (a conflated Osama/Saddam), but the rogue terrorist attack becomes moot when the zombies overtake the city. Because, you know, the people are ANGRY about the direction in which this country is headed! Especially the people who have huge holes in their cheeks and whatnot.

After a preachy middle act, LOTD delivers a pretty excellent final half hour, when the political message becomes satisfyingly ambiguous, and the action takes over. There are some great zombie moments (if you've ever wanted to see a John Leguizamo zombie, here's your chance … personally, I'd like to see that for real) and plenty of bloody body parts flying every which way. Asia Argento is also worth noting in the plus-column, for the hotness factor, if not for the enunciation factor.

Land of the Dead may well be George Romero's "ultimate zombie masterpiece" (as I've seen it referred to), but it ain't the insane zombie holocaust I'd have loved to see. It's much more like reading the zombie New Republic.

Review by Sebastian Woody