British takeoff, or send-up as you prefer, of George Romero's imaginative, morbidly witty zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. All of the imagination in this one has gone into the humor and none into the horror. Put more simply, all of it has gone into Shaun (and his associates) and none into the Dead, who could pass for direct spillover from the outskirts of Romero's Pittsburgh. Co-writer/director Edgar Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg make great sport, early on, playing on our expectations — raising false alarms — by zeroing in on the zombie-like demeanor of the ordinary man on the street. But while the real zombies await their cue in the wings, the first order of business is to scope out, at leisure, the social dynamics of the central ensemble: the title character (Pegg), a white-shirted clerk in an electronics store, who neglects his long-suffering girlfriend (Kate Ashfield) and uncomplaining mother (Penelope Wilton) in preference for the company of the slobby slacker (Nick Frost) with whom he has been best friends since boyhood; and a romantically linked couple (Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran) who take the side of the girlfriend, the male of the couple taking her side so ardently as to arouse the suspicions of his own girlfriend. Where the Romero film, and its vision of America, was centered around the shopping mall, this one, and its vision of twenty-something Brits of arrested development, is centered around the pub. (Rhymes with hub.) The only place our Shaun can ever think to go — whether to make up to his girlfriend on a Special Night Out or to fortify himself against an army of zombies — is the place he goes every night of his life: "You got your pint. You got your pig snacks. What more do you want?" There would be no insult in saying that, nimble and diligent though this comedy is, it is not quite as funny, and not nearly as scary, as the Romero prototype. Or to say it another way: the joke in the Romero is not only more double-edged — the zombies and the humans both have their own reasons to gravitate to the mall — but at the same time it is less of a joke. The shopping mall as a refuge is a genuinely good idea. (2004) — Duncan Shepherd
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