The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one of the best adaptations I've ever seen. It perfectly captures the unrelenting awfulness of the book it's based on. Writer Seth Grahame-Smith rewrote sections of Jane Austen's classic novel to add zombie action. Perhaps because of the novelty of that concept, it became a best-seller. But the problem is that, after about twenty pages, it's painfully clear that there's only one joke, and that joke is destined to be repeated over and over. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is better as a Mad Magazine “Classic Works of Literature We'd Like To See Re-imagined” parody than as an actual classic work of literature being re-imagined. The film version preserves that primary flaw.

Lily James (Cinderella) plays Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters trained in the art of fighting victims of an undead plague that has swept England. The girls' mother eagerly seeks husbands for all of them. Sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) attracts most of the male attention, eventually winning the heart of Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). Elizabeth, meanwhile, finds herself in the sights of Mr. Darcy (Maleficent's Sam Riley), a stiff zombie hunter she neither trusts nor likes. Occasionally, undead people strike.

Once you get past the sight of women in corsets fighting zombies, there's not much else to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The movie is a half-assed version of Austen's tale, with zombies thrown in as a cheap gimmick. In fact, the only reason it tells the Pride and Prejudice story is because that's part of the joke. Writer/director Burr Steers (17 Again) doesn't show a ton of interest in doing right by the tale. And by keeping the gore at a relatively tame PG-13 level, the contrast between British formality and bloody horror is fatally blunted. (Seriously, if that's the big joke, why not really exploit it to the fullest degree possible?) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is neither dramatically artful enough to satisfy Masterpiece Theater fans, nor exciting enough to satisfy The Walking Dead fans.

The sad thing is that the actors are all really good. Lily James is as fierce and credible playing a zombie hunter as she is playing a proper young lady. Sam Riley, meanwhile, would make a great Darcy in a serious version of Pride and Prejudice. He captures the character's most essential quality: a sense of reservedness that unintentionally registers as stand-offish. James and Riley generate chemistry together that might actually lead somewhere in a better, less superficial film.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had a long road to the screen. At one point, it was designed as a much bigger project, with Natalie Portman playing Elizabeth and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, Joy) directing. One has to wonder what they might have done with this material. Russell, in particular, is known for a quirky touch. Perhaps he would have found a comic angle for the movie besides repeating the central gag ad nauseam.

The production values are very good, and the actors are willing to give it their all. Those are about the only positive qualities, though. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is, at its most fundamental level, a thin idea. To really work – on the page or on the screen – it would need some kind of satiric viewpoint on Austen's work, the undead genre, or both. Instead, it simply says, “Hey, wouldn't it be hilarious to stick zombies into Pride and Prejudice?”

The unequivocal answer to that question is “no.”

( 1/2 out of four)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is rated PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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