The canniness of Jim Jarmusch (Paterson, Coffee & Cigarettes, Dead Man) may be a little much even for discerning art-house patrons with a patented quirky deadpan wit intact.
The Dead Don’t Die marks forty years in the field for the filmmaker who’s gotten many of his former thespians back on board in his politicized take on the zombie genre with probably a nod or two to George A. Romero (who started his cult success back in the late 1960s).
The setting of Centerville (the signpost lists a population of 738) almost indicates a small-town post World War II era with hardware business and a diner on view. Though a cop in a red Smart car Ronnie (Adam Driver known for his Kylo Ren of late) has a foreboding proclamation echoed in the framing Sturgill Simpson eponymous tune.
Ronnie’s paired with the more veteran Cliff (Bill Murray) and Chloe Sevigny’s also bespectacled hard-working server and protector. The mundane is thrown out of whack by ‘polar fracking’ (something to do with climate change) when it’s still light well after dusk, the power grid is in flux; so its prime conditions for ravenous desires to stir up the easygoing folks.
Underlying characters include those played by the likes of Rosie Perez (remember Night on Earth), Iggy Pop, Danny Glover, and Steve Buscemi as a farmer who has a red cap with deep anger to go with it. Tilda Swinton (who was in Jarmusch’s more inviting Only Lovers Left Alive, his vampire foray) as Glasgow-accented funeral attendant Zelda is the most diverting character who’d feel at home in the Kill Bill pictures when using a samurai sword.
A mischievous recluse (Tom Waits, another favorite of the writer/director) isn’t that close by apparently to be a part of the blood letting with periods of decapitations and amputations. Even if it could be perceived on the whole to be lacking in the visceral department.
For those newcomers to the Jarmusch experience this is the antithesis of “Zombieland” where Murray had a memorable cameo. Here he and Driver share the kind of goofy rapport that may grow tedious given how the self-indulgent (including in-jokes) the material may be. With the apocalyptic and saturnine pervading the opportunities for levity exhumed Sevigny provides a little more honest emotional introspection than expected.
Not that the cast isn’t trying hard to entertain in The Dead Don’t Die — they (and the lensing) make it more watchable than the overriding tepidness in how the proceedings unfold (especially in the dialogue) to make it a more favorably suggestive and satirical pungent pastiche.