Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dead Air (2009)

It looks like a typical night in the working life of immensely popular self-righteous audience-hating talk radio man Logan Burnhardt (Bill Moseley). Only he, his on-air sidekick Gil (David Moscow), his producer and ex-wife Lucy (Patricia Tallman), tech guy Burt (Joshua Feinman) and coloured security guard Tanner (Anthony Ray Parker) are in the station when the unthinkable happens (and would you believe that the black guy dies first?).

About a dozen bombs blow up in sports stadiums across the USA. The bombs are just the carriers for the true problem, namely a 28 Days Later-like virus which transforms its victims into rage zombies. While Logan is trying to keep his listeners informed, the usual stuff happens around him.

Oh, and one of the (sigh, yes, evil Muslim) terrorists sneaks into the station to get Logan to first blame the Muslims, then the US government for the attacks, an idea I'd leave out of my zombie virus terrorist attack plans - mostly because it's really stupid and just makes no fucking sense.

So, this is what happens when actor has-been Corbin Bernsen tries his hand at directing (and not for the first time, I might add, so that you can avoid his other films as well) the dumb person's version of Pontypool. Not that Bruce McDonald needs to be afraid of the competition; crap like this lets the original film just shine that much brighter.

The film's problems are manifold, but I - keeping in the spirit of Dead Air's script - am much too lazy to get into all of them.

But let's talk about the script a little, or rather its mindnumbingly stupid politics. It's the sort of film that on one hand wants its evil muslim pulp terrorists to be totally evil yet on the other tries its damndest to keep up a puzzled liberal face of the "why, oh why do these people hate us so much?" variety. And it even gives an answer: they like killing, and all their motives are just excuses. Which brings me back to the word dumb, because, honestly, if it's so hard for a scriptwriter to get into other people's heads, he should probably try to find another job. Ideologically even more puzzling is the "people are mean, you know" monologue at the end which has fuck all to do with the film we saw, in which there never was much room for someone being mean in a meaningful way beside our supposed hero and the evil muslim pulp terrorists. It does, however, fit quite well into my theory that neither Bernsen nor his writer ever bothered to think anything about their film through.

I'm kind of puzzled why the zombies are in the film at all. The thematic work (such as it is) is completely done through blunt and obvious dialogue between Burnhardt and Evil Muslim Guy. The zombies here aren't a metaphor, they're just there because nobody involved in the production had enough talent to write a film "only" about the aftermath of a large-scale terrorist attack or a regular biological agent. Why, without the zombies, you'd need to make use of your characters as characters instead of keeping to the usual cliches.

Yes, I am perfectly aware that you can have well-written characters and zombies as a metaphor and cool gut-munch action in one film, or that you can make an excellent movie with just one of those three elements. Unfortunately, I don't think Bernsen is aware of that. We are in the land of people who think making a genre film is an excuse for being lazy here. People, I might add, who aren't some guys making a film in their backyards with their family and friends doing the acting, but supposed professionals.

The good thing about the momentary flood of zombie films is that it makes it unnecessary for the zombie fan to tolerate films like Dead Air just because their direction reaches vaguely professional levels and they have zombies in them. If you're set on watching something with everyone's favorite monster in it, there's a world of better films to see, and not much reason for anyone to waste his or her time or more words than I just did on this one.


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