Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)

Zombies. If there’s one undead creature that’s as popular as vampires on television and cinema, it’s zombies. I’d also argue that they’re done rather better too. Zombies don’t have volatile love affairs. Zombies don’t even have true emotions. Zombies also don’t sprinkle glitter on their chest and fall for women that can barely crack a smile. Zombies are just all around better creatures and the better basis for a story. Then you have to factor in the fact that zombies can arise from all manner of origins and have different traits: from the speedy, enraged fiends of 28 Days Later to the classic shambling living dead from Dawn of the Dead. In summary, zombies are pretty damn cool, and in-vogue again thanks to The Walking Dead. So, why not pit them against something? We all love a good versus movie (apparently) – just see Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Alien vs. Predator and Cowboys vs. Aliens. But who do we pit our zombies against to have a great slice of fan fiction… Wait… What?… Cockneys?!

Yes, the clue to Cockneys vs. Zombies is very much in the title. It’s a group of Londoners versus those shambling abominations. This time, the zombies emerge when one is disturbed in an underground crypt that’s unearthed on a building site. The infection spreads and the zombies infest the Earth. Did I mention this is a comedy too? I bet I can predict your thoughts now: “a comedy? Involving zombies? In England? Oh wow, is it as good as Shaun of the Dead then?”… well, the answer is unfortunately not. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

There are many things that made Shaun of the Dead the best zom-com in recent memory. It not only had a great script, and an assortment of the best comedic actors that Britain has produced, but it also featured zombies that were compelling and really looked the part. They didn’t skimp on the effects – it truly looked like a horror movie, but was funny. Cockneys vs. Zombies falls down on every one of those points, for the most part.

The film stars Michelle Ryan, Georgia King, Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the characters of the “main” plot (good hearted bank robbers that find the horde), which is countered by the more elderly cast of Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Blackman and others, who serve in the secondary story: the pensioners that are trapped in their home by the zombies. How was all this acting? Well, “not bad” is my verdict, but nor is it anything to write home about. The younger cast are serviceable, but it’s Alan Ford that shines. Mainly because I feel that the director’s instructions were “be yourself”, or “act like you did in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch“. He’s “cockney” personified… not an “‘orrible ****” like in his previous films (his words, not mine).

Geriatrics, guns and cockney geezers – this film has it all! If that’s what you’re looking for…

Let me also include another name in the actors list… The Phage. Yes, I’m actually in this movie. My (real) name’s in the cast list. You’d think this’d make me think the movie was magical wouldn’t you? But I’m pretty objective. Even when I was on the set I felt the humour was a bit juvenile and not really funny. I thought this would be different when I saw it on-screen, but wow – it still wasn’t funny. I laughed a couple of times (twice more than Keith Lemon: The Film if you’re counting), but overall it wasn’t to my tastes. The movie kept my attention, but didn’t truly entertain me.

So I’ve dealt with a) actors, and b) the lack of humour, but have yet to address c) the aesthetics – the three ingredients that made Shaun of the Dead so good. Now, as I was on-set I already knew that the zombies were never going to challenge The Walking Dead for truly amazing prosthetics and make-up. But what I wasn’t expecting was such shocking continuity with these zombies. In 28 Days Later you knew what to expect: red eyes, in The Walking Dead: torn flesh and gaping, jutting jaws. But here? A mix of everything. The zombies’ eyes change from normal to red to yellow, depending on which zombie you’re seeing, and the “effects” on the zombies are extremely weak. Oddly, some have full blown sunken eyes like in The Walking Dead, but the majority look like they’ve had talcum powder sprinkled on them and that was it. As I was there, I can say that that’s not far off the truth. Sure, we all have budget constraints, but the producers should have had ALL with full-blown make-up or NONE with make-up. Not the mish-mash you see on-screen.

Sure, this movie will tick some people’s boxes for a zombie film: lots of gore, guns and shambling wrecks, but I just want so much more nowadays. I’ve been spoiled by films such as Rec and 28 Days Later, as well as the almighty The Walking Dead, that this just doesn’t hit the same notes. Even if those films didn’t exist, this is still a pretty hum-drum film. It has the odd laugh, but is probably worth picking up in a bargain bin, as opposed to venturing out to find a cinema that’s showing it.

Despite the fact that I’m in the film, I just find it hard to love it. I was entertained and definitely wasn’t bored, but nor was I actively engaged with what was going on. The film appeals to a certain crowd with respects to humour – if you like all of Adam Sandler‘s movies for instance, you may enjoy this. But most of it was too basal to really register with me as “funny”. Thankfully Alan Ford really relishes his role and gets “stuck in” – his scenes are consistently the best. The rest? Let’s just say that I hope this film doesn’t rise from the dead for a sequel.

With the film hopefully now buried six feet under, with no chance of resurrection (I removed the head – we’re safe), I’m wondering what’s the next crossover we’ll get. Vampires vs. Zombies? Strippers vs. Zombies? Or maybe John McClane vs. Zombies? My money’s on John. He’ll probably deal with those zombies like he deals with helicopters: by lobbing a car at them. Yippe-ki-yay you undead mother—–s!

Phage Factor:

Offender (2012)

Revenge. They say it’s a dish best served cold. With a side of calculation and dedication; although perhaps followed by a dessert of guilt and remorse. We’ve all felt it at some point. When someone takes your last slice of Papa John’s pizza from the refrigerator you just want to hunt them down and beat them remorselessly until they’re crying for you to stop… but we don’t necessarily act on these urges; though I will get some revenge for that stolen last slice of heaven. Offender deals with these issues… well, not the stolen pizza premise, although I’ll start writing a screenplay for that hit. It does however serve up a very modern British take on the tale.

And by “British”, I really do mean British. If you’re not a native of the UK, then I’ll issue you a warning: some of the dialogue will be confusing unless you take a sub-30 year old native in with you to act as a translator, or a fan of the UK hip-hop and grime music scene (a gritty UK version of glitzy US rap: see YouTube video above). Although not as “London speak”-heavy as other recent Brit-flicks such as Attack The Block or the terrible Anuvahood, it’s still smattered with the language. If you’re clueless about what I’m rambling about – and believe me, it’s not jolly “cockney rhyming slang” – read this guide, it might clue you in.

Offender, set to the backdrop of last year’s London Riots, tells the tale of how Tommy (Joe Cole) goes about exacting his revenge on a group of ne’er-do-wells who’ve turned the life of him and his girlfriend (Kimberley Nixon) upside-down. Needless to say, they’ve done a lot more than take a slice or pizza, or even an entire pizza. In order to get his revenge for the harrowing experience he’s had to endure, he gets himself incarcerated into a juvenile detention centre. If this sounds a bit familiar, then maybe you’re thinking of the initial premise of Prison Break? There are similarities to be had, but here the aim isn’t escape and exoneration for false imprisonment, but purely to inflict pain. It’s more of a hybrid of Scum and Law Abiding Citizen.

Joe Cole: One to watch.

Two of the biggest assets of the film are with the leads: Joe Cole and Kimberley Nixon. I know both from UK television series for very opposing roles. Cole appeared in the UK’s Skins series as a thoroughly detestable yet charismatic character who was driven by violence – a true bad boy. Whilst I know of Nixon through her role in comedy series Fresh Meat, where she plays quite a naive and confused student. Whilst Cole‘s role in Offender is in the same ballpark as his Skins‘ character, they’re markedly different in the fact that here he’s a good guy trying to be honourable. Nixon meanwhile is a revelation: truly showing a broad canvas of emotion over the film’s running time. I’m very pleasantly surprised. Returning to Joe Cole, I just hope he’s supplied with more films in the future, and doesn’t descend into playing the same character time and time again, like fellow Skins‘ alumnus Jack O’Connell (Eden Lake, Harry Brown) – who I also think is fantastic, but has played a lot of similar roles; though thankfully his future work looks more varied. I’m hopeful that Cole can follow in the footsteps of previous Skins’ stars, such as O’Connell, Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire).

Although the film is lucky to have two stellar lead players, the same cannot be said for all of the cast or the script they have to work with. The film tries to fire off too many sub-plots as it carries on in order to fill out back story to some of the supporting characters, but some of these go no-where and are not resolved. One of the prison officers (referred to as “Screws” in the credits list…) gets a bit of a fleshing out at one point, which raised my interest as he was playing up to the dime-a-dozen “corrupt officer” role, but this was quickly dashed and he returns to the one dimensional character that was first established. A shame. This is just one of a few examples of plots that were beginning to sprout and then abandoned or never given a satisfying pay off.

Juvenile Detention Centres: Not known for their morale-boosting wardrobe.

The majority of the young actors used in the film are actually ex-offenders themselves – perhaps to add authenticity to the film. With this being the case, I can’t fault their performances. These are guys that haven’t had money thrown at them for acting school, and for the most part you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the trained and untrained actors. They all far outpace their more senior thespians in the film, who don’t fare quite as well.

However, the major flaws lie with that plot. You can see any “twists” coming from too far away as the film tries to conform to the archetypal “thriller” routing. I’d also like to have seen more dialogue, as opposed to brooding shots of people walking around in slow motion, but I’m sure this will come with experience for director Ron Scalpello. Not bad for a first movie, but he’s not going to light the world up just yet. Joe Cole on the other hand? Well, I’ve high hopes for him.

All in all, Offender is a solid British revenge film, but lacks any real innovation and can’t compete with similar films out of the US. Sure, it spins it with the modern inner-city London language and sets it to the very real backdrop of the 2011 riots, but this is like putting a fresh coat of paint on a tired out car. It looks new, but under the bonnet it’s still the same old engine. And it’s also a car that only domestic audiences will want. Just like Attack The Block, I’d be surprised if this film made a dent anywhere but the UK. US “gang” films can easily translate over to UK audiences, but the reverse won’t be true any time soon.

Or if you’d rather I summarised in the right vernacular: “Blud, this film has bare tings goin’ for it, ‘specially that Joe Cole, is it? But dat plot? Allow it.” Translation: “This film has a lot of good things going for it; most notably Joe Cole. But the plot? Don’t expect too much.” I don’t think this is going to be pinned up as a reason to visit London any time soon either… Now gimme dat pizza back ‘fore I murk you bruv, y’ear?

Phage Factor:

3 Star