June 17, 2007

Fido (06/17/07)

Lettergrade: F

Fido is the sort of film that makes for a funny trailer, but a dull, laughless movie. Produced in Canada and starring some moderately well-known actors, the film takes a look at what would happen if - after space dust turns the Earth's deceased into flesh-eating zombies - those zombies were then domesticated and put to work in closed-off communities that resemble the American 1950s for no reason whatsoever. It's a horror/comedy that is frequently gruesome rather than scary, and marginally clever rather than funny.

After we saw the movie, the guest host on Ebert & Roeper reminded me that the picture is pretty much derived from a 12 second gag at the end of the infinitely superior Shaun Of The Dead, where a news clip announces the government's program to do pretty much the same thing that the government does in this movie. The concept could make for a funny movie, I suppose, but in Fido it all plays out in a surprisingly lengthy way that makes it almost impossible for anything to have a good comedic snap.

Fido himself is a zombie that is bought by an unhappy family. Mom and dad (Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker) don't interact much with one another, or with their adolescent son Timmy. Timmy isn't popular at school, and Fido (played by an unrecognizable Billy Connolly) becomes his only friend. While playing in the park one day, Fido's restraining collar momentarily deactivates and he savagely chews the arm off of the old woman who lives next door (I could fish around on IMDB and try to figure out what her character was named, but fuck it). Anyway, because a zombie bite will turn you into a zombie, Timmy whacks the old lady's head off with a shovel and buries her in a local park. Unfortunately, she rises from her grave (it is later explained that a zombie head can reattach itself) and starts a whole wave of zombie killings in the town that need to be covered up by Timmy and his mom (who has become smitten with Fido for reasons that are unclear).

What I just described plays out over 45-50 minutes... quite a bit more time than would seem to be needed. We understand right away that it's a Leave It To Beaver / Lassie type world in which zombies live. It takes maybe 40 seconds of screen time to communicate that, and yet the movie found it necessary to set the premise up somewhat meticulously, as if we'd start questioning things if details were glossed over. We also might feel like we're a little more in on the joke if the human characters more closely resembled campy archetypes from TV of that era, but instead the film puts some effort into giving them nuance and depth where it is really not required. It's all an unhappy marriage of material that probably shouldn't have been combined like this.

Yet another inhibitor to the comedy is the film's slick production value: The cinematography is bright and saturated, the sets and costumes are elaborate, and there's a wall-to-wall music that sounds like it was recorded with a big orchestra. I generally feel that movies like this - which try to strike a bizarre / satirical / subversive chord - are better when they feel cheaper (or at least give the illusion of cheapness).

It might have been okay as a bizarre retro-comedy ala The Brady Bunch Movie or some of the more successful segments of Grindhouse, but Fido's nearest relative might surprisingly be 1998's Pleasantville. In that movie, Tobey Magurie and Reese Witherspoon are sucked into a Donna Reed like TV show to illustrate the point that while it might be easy to romanticize the past as this wonderful time where everyone was nicer to one another, in truth there was a lot of repression, bigotry, and pressure to stick to social norms that people selectively leave out when getting nostalgic. Maguire learns that a little rebellion and social progress can be a really good thing, while Witherspoon starts to understand that an excessive amount of the same can be quite bad.

Fido operates in a similar way, setting its people and zombies in a fictional past, the likes the which never existed. There's a character arc toward the end that seems to be trying to make the point that the uninhibited zombies sort of of show the living how to really live. If the movie is indeed trying to be deep on this level, however, I don't understand what the filmmakers want us to take away from everything. The zombies teach people who would never have had to endure such social conditions to throw up their heels in a way that really isn't relevant to anything going on today (or at least, it's not all that relevant to life as I have experienced it). It's okay if your movie doesn't have a "central message," but I've got a problem with movies that act like they're about something when in fact a small amount of critical thinking directed at the plot makes everything completely unravel.

I'm not saying that every movie has to have an underlining theme or a message, you understand, but I somewhat feel that if you're not going to have a good reason for existing, you at least need to be entertaining on some level. Fido doesn't do either of those things, and as such it should pretty much be avoided.

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