Shaun of the Dead

A slacker working in an appliance store, Shaun (Simon Pegg) infuriates his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield, "Beyond Borders," "This Little Life") with his lack of ambition. This bloke desires nothing more than to hang at local pub the Winchester with his slovenly roommate Ed (Nick Frost). After a night of heavy drinking, though, Shaun is determined to win Liz back. There's only one problem - London has been overrun with zombies overnight and Shaun must go to hitherto unknown heroic lengths to save Liz and his mum - he must become "Shaun of the Dead."

Laura's Review: B

This British romantic zombie comedy is slyly witty and stuffed with in-jokes, many of which may be inaccessible to American audiences, at least until BBC America picks up "Spaced," the hit Brit sitcom from whence Shaun's star and director hail.

From its opening credit montage of supermarket cashiers rotely performing their jobs and Shaun's neighbors shuffling towards the film's title, "Shaun of the Dead" implicates its hero and his cronies as living dead themselves. Staggering home in a drunken stupor, Shaun and Ed don't realize they're encountering zombies (and "Shaun's" characters never break into runs to escape such obviously slow-moving threats). The next morning, when they find a woman in their 'garden,' their first assumption is that she's an overindulged pub patron. Shaun and Ed spend copious amounts of time plopped in front of the telly, but they fail to register any of the dire warnings they channel surf over until they're just about beaten over the head - a newscaster repeats "Night of the Living Dead's" instructions for killing the reanimated.

Pegg and director Edgar Wright's screenplay is chockablock with background sight gags and zombie film references, while remaining steeped in suburban Britishness. Shaun's weapon of choice is a cricket bat found in his garden shed and when he discovers his stepdad Philip (Bill Nighy, "Love Actually") sickening from a nasty bite, there's nothing to be done but have a cuppa' with mum (Penelope Wilton, "Calendar Girls"). But Shaun's character undergoes major changes when he's faced with battling for survival. After years of defending Ed, who entertains his roomie by silently passing lethal gasses, Shaun demands that his old friend shape up (Shaun's pushed over the edge when Ed stops to take a call from someone looking for weed as they're being approached by a horde of monsters). He shows bravery making himself human bait so that his friends and family can take cover - in the Winchester, of course - and is seen in a new light by Liz, especially when Shaun's childhood friend Yvonne (Pegg's "Spaced" co-star Jessica Stevenson), leading her 'Seinfeld-like' alternate group of zombie fighters, appears to hold him in such high esteem. The film loses its way a bit when Shaun is forced to make some overly-momentous decisions which drain the laughs from this comedy for too long a stretch, but it rebounds with a sentimental bit of self-sacrifice and some smart post-disaster television spots.

Cinematographer David M. Dunlap does some fine work, particularly following Shaun on his daily trip to the Indian run convenience story across the street with an uncut tracking shot. Director Wright milks the 'day later' jaunt with some funny sound effects that hint at off camera gore. The production's bland setting is perfect for the subject matter.

"Shaun of the Dead" isn't the sure-fire smash cult flick its advance buzz suggested, but in its own way, it may be a first - a 'cute' zombie flick which employs subtlety in its humor.