FILM REVIEW: SHAUN OF THE DEAD

By Robert K. Elder

Chicago Tribune Staff Writer

3-1/2 stars

Following the success of "28 Days Later," this year's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" and the recently released "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," you would think the zombie genre has ambled its course.

Think again.

With "Shaun of the Dead," British filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have rolled out a gleefully gory, pitch-perfect parody of George Romero's zombie films.

But this isn't a movie about other movies. "Shaun of the Dead" stands on its own, a romantic comedy crossed with a quarter-life-crisis drama - played against a background horde of brain-hungry, decomposing undead.

Pegg stars as Shaun, a 29-year-old appliance store manager whose girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), dumps him when his lack of ambition has him pub-bound and living with childhood friend Ed (Nick Frost), a video game-obsessed slacker supreme. When zombies attack, Shaun must save his relationship with Liz and the lives of their friends with the help of a cricket bat and his overweight mooch of a pal.

"Shaun of the Dead" pairs writer-director Wright and co-writer Pegg, both from Britain's popular "Spaced" TV show. Their natural comic timing is obvious from the start, as they confidently fling out multilayered, whiplash-quick jokes bulked up with pop culture references.

Example: When Shaun and Ed battle their first batch of zombies, their mortal terror is interrupted while the pair editorializes about Shaun's record collection, since they've been using the discs as defense weapons. Shaun opts to save an LP of the Stone Roses' "Second Coming," instructing Ed to hurl a Dire Straits record instead.

Billed as "zom rom com" (zombie romantic comedy), "Shaun of the Dead" actually isn't the first film of its kind. In 1992, "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson released "Dead Alive," a gross-out comedy of carnage that still, essentially, was a love story. Wright and Pegg aren't as interested in the mass, creative slaughter of zombies as Jackson was, and so their film plays more like a traditional romantic comedy than a geek homage movie.

Then again, there's plenty for pop-culture addicts to chew on. There's a cameo-brief reunion of two cast members from BBC's "The Office," when Lucy Davis, playing a part in Shaun's platoon of survivors, runs into former co-star Martin Freeman. Also be on the lookout for a postscript cameo from members of Coldplay, lampooning their own do-gooder image.

But what really makes "Shaun" shuffle forward is Pegg himself. Playing the stereotypical twentysomething everyman, Pegg has a disarming fragility that evokes a bit of empathy from anyone ever stuck in a rut. His fights with stepfather Bill Nighy (again in a scene-stealing performance) and conflicts with disrespectful underlings at work would be bad enough - if only zombies didn't make things worse.

Self-parody and self-reference in a medium, opined media guru Marshall McLuhan, mark the maturation of an art form. Given that Romero just started pre-production for his fourth zombie film, "Land of the Dead," during the summer, perhaps "Shaun of the Dead" isn't a glorious swan song for zombie flicks, but evidence of a renaissance.

"Shaun of the Dead"

Directed by Edgar Wright; screenplay by Wright and Simon Pegg; photographed by David M. Dunlap; production design by Marcus Rowland; music by Dan Mudford and Pete Woodhead; edited by Chris Dickens; produced by Nira Park. A Rogue Pictures release; opens Friday, Sept. 24. Running time: 1:39. MPAA rating: R (zombie violence/gore and language).

Shaun - Simon Pegg

Liz - Kate Ashfield

Ed - Nick Frost

Dianne - Lucy Davis

David - Dylan Moran

Philip - Bill Nighy


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