A DEAD RISING Double Review

DEAD RISING: WATCHTOWER 


Reporters Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe) and camera operator/producer Jordan Blair (Keegan Connor Tracy) cover the government's efforts by the Federal Emergency Zombie Authority, FEZA, to contain a virus that turns people into zombies in the fictional town of East Mission, Oregon. When an established drug called Zombrex fails to stop the spread of the disease, they team up with two survivors, Crystal O'Rourke (Meghan Ory) and a grieving mother, Maggie (Virginia Madsen) to escape the town before it is taken over by Army General Lyons (Dennis Haysbert).

"Stay Human," says a commercial pitchman for Zombrex. It's a fitting introduction for the events that develop between the games Dead Rising 2 and 3 by Capcom. It sets the tone for something tongue-in-cheek, all the while giving us newbies who may be aware of the game series itself an introduction to the characters from the early game up to now. Yes, we are given a very arrogant, cocky, and laid-back Frank West (Rob Riggle) being interviewed by UBN anchor Susan Collier (Carrie Genzel) who becomes increasingly frustrated while Frank gives his "pearls of wisdom" on fighting zombies in the first incursion at fictional Fortune City, Nevada (from the first Dead Rising game). The banter is quite natural and balances out some drama as this has the feel of a television show rather than a feature. The pacing and beats are different but it also keeps to the spirit of the Dead Rising game and improvisational weaponry.

There is, however, a sub-plot to the main one. It is through the actions of General Lyons that frames FEZA Manager, Norton (Gary Jones) for a bad shipment of Zombrex that encourages the government to go with another, subcutaneous device that releases automatic drugs once a year and tracks each of the infected. Lyons had tried to convince the government it was necessary but civil rights groups decried it as Constitutional infringement. As Chase goes off to find a shipment of Zombrex as proof of the switch, Jordan brings Norton in on her further investigations on Lyons' presence -- leading to the eventual abduction of both Norton and Jordan by Lyons and the eventual beginning of Project Watchtower.

I like when there is a plot and a sub-plot in storytelling. It's not overdone, the characters are quite solid and engaging, and you're given a development arc that's easy for the brain to grasp and be entertained and challenged like a video game should. The eerie performance by Virginia Madsen, who could not accept her "turned" daughter was beyond help, she tries her best to help Chase and Crystal get to a gate to escape from the numerous zombies and freshly infected. There is, however, a very upsetting scene where an Asian family, still human, were shot by guards given orders to shoot anyone that approaches the gate. So why did this have to happen? Why are the heroes SO WHITE that you couldn't write something that's reasonable? It could very well have been a Mexican or White family shot. Instead, it's an Asian family. Is this diversity? This is my problem with scriptwriters and this particular "feature."

High horse time: I am not particularly thrilled with this film for that very reason of a "throwaway" moment that should have been handled better. Humanity is at the core of any movie no matter what genre you're writing. When you begin to pigeonhole and stereotype like writer Tim Carter did, you strip away all dignity and humanity when there is another way to handle the situation. And Carter failed in that. Granted, you could see the desperation, fear, uncertainty, and doubt among the guards while the family pleaded for safety, but I was dissatisfied on how it was done. That moment took away from me what could have been a penultimate moment of compassion and realism. That's what this film is partially trying to say, right? And to encourage fun and hope at the same time. Carter missed a wonderful opportunity in the process. Sure, we need to be uncomfortable but at what expense? This is not how I view diversity in film. Now back to our regularly scheduled review.

As our survivors continue to fight their way to safety, they arrive at a building where the Zombrex is kept and they look it over. As Chase is now aware that Crystal is one of the infected and takes Zombrex daily, they make a deal: as Crystal has her own personal vial of Zombrex not given at the quarantine zone, she allows an injection of the donated Zombrex to see if it went bad or something. It was surmised earlier that the batch FEZA allegedly received was good and suggested a new zombie strain broke out. Now with Chase recording the event, Crystal injects herself with the donated Zombrex and eventually gets a slight transformation -- showing the donated Zombrex as not being the real deal on Chase's smartphone. She injects herself with the last vial she had with her, then morphs back to human. Aired on UBN, the anchor finds out the truth, along with Frank West about the deception.

Regarding the fate of Maggie once the movie ends, I urge everyone if they watch this film it's a bittersweet moment but quite nasty. As for Jordan, her last act before her abduction by Lyons' team is to hide evidence - her smartphone - in an old newspaper dispenser for Chase to find about the Zombrex shipment as well as the new "chips" that Lyons uses. He realizes how he had failed to get Jordan and had a new respect for her abilities as a journalist, not just a cameraperson and producer. At the end, he vows to find her.

I liked the government conspiracy introduced by our reporters - this has been fairly underutilized in zombie films and gives a gritty harshness to the fantasy world of Dead Rising itself. It's not "in your face" or too subdued but gives just enough thrill factor for people to go "ah HA!" or even "saw that coming" shouts. Sometimes it takes itself seriously, sometimes it doesn't. The drama doesn't detract from the simple plot but it can be a bit distracting. After an intense scene happens, a cut to the studio between the anchor and West is a respite of sorts.

There is no loss of action and suspense in this movie and Crackle released this as one of their premieres for original programming. It may not be a "holy grail" of Zombie filmmaking (if there is such a thing) but it's fairly entertaining despite my misgivings from one scene. The zombies themselves are quite stereotypical and oftentimes humorous; the zombie clown being one. A bit generic and doesn't bring anything new to the genre but it can give you a sense of a first-person shooter feel as in one continuous camera scene Chase is attacked by a group of zombies into a bus. The gaming throwbacks to creating weaponry and using everyday items to kill zombies is quite interesting, if not downright funny at times. Is this a good film to watch? It can be. I only hope it gets better as well as the writing.

Dead Rising: Watchtower is directed by Zach Lipovsky and written by Tim Carter. Presented by Legendary Digital Media, Contradiction Films, Di Bonaventura Digital, and distributed by Crackle.

DEAD RISING: ENDGAME


As for the sequel, it picks up two years later with Chase Carter and his on-and-off girlfriend, Sandra Lowe (Marie Avgeropoulos), a skilled computer hacker, who try to uncover another government conspiracy after a failed attempt to expose the truth from Jordan Blair's (Keegan Connor Tracy) smartphone. Watchtower is in play, tracking all the infected, but it is through a whistleblower from Phenotrans, the makers of Zombrex, George Hancock (Ian Tracey; father of Keegan Tracy), that Chase, who has gone deep undercover, and new producer, Jill Eikland (Jessica Harmon) on a rescue mission to stop millions of innocent citizens from being eliminated by Project Endgame. Joining the team is Garth (Patrick Sabongui), a video game aficionado and skilled zombie killer (who was also in Watchtower as a Hippie Zombrex Doctor). They have to go back into a medical facility in the center of East Mission, find the tracking station, Watchtower, and upload a virus to cancel a program that kills 1.5 million infected people. General Lyons (Dennis Haysbert) returns to see that all the infected are killed off while a new research scientist in the East Mission facility, Dr. Leon Rand (Billy Zane), attempts to cure the zombies of their affliction while trying to retain revivification and a permanent reversal of death itself. Zane is semi-believable as a Dr. Mengele-esque figure wanting to genuinely fix things but ultimately becomes George Hancock's prize to kill.

This is a lot to take in, sure, but we are also introduced to Chuck Greene (Victor Webster), the reluctant hero and protagonist of the Dead Rising 2 video game and Susan Ingot (Camille Sullivan), the CEO of Phenotrans, to keep a somewhat plodding story along. And it does plod along. Between the scenes of the news producer trying to convince Chase he needs proof of his claims of impropriety by the military, despite what grainy footage was aired two years ago, Phenotrans trying to cover its own tracks and alliances through Lyons and Rand, it becomes a game of who's got the most to lose here. And that's where the story lags. It didn't even give us a "what happened to Crystal O'Rourke" follow-up.

Well aware of how padded a movie can get with extraneous characters, there is also a biker gang out on patrol in the quarantine zone, led by Logan (Aleks Paunovic), a Mad Max inspired character that is also in the game, Dead Rising 3. The actor, writer, and stunt coordinator from Canada, who brings his intensity to this role as well as his stature of 6' 5", is a refreshing change of pace from the story yet gives us a twisted take on his "kingdom" in East Mission which he wishes to expand. So while our main characters try to make their way to the research facility, Logan seeks to expand his horizons by breaching the walls in some manner and infecting more people. If that's the attempt at a sub-plot, it really stretches the imagination. But it's in the game, so why bother asking?

Can this movie survive these twists and turns that our protagonists run into? It seems to fall flat between the corporate world and government interference overlapping what little humanity is seen with all our characters. Reintroducing Jordan and Chase again, with her being constantly changed, probed and prodded by Rand over two years, it's stilted and clumsy with Chase apologizing and Jordan not seeming to care because of her changes. I found all the characters humdrum and barely evolving. Aside from Logan's megalomanical leanings and Dr. Rand's twisted research to "cure" the zombies and infected, the only welcome relief I found was some of the humor -- especially with Logan -- and the end of the movie.

Sadly, I had high hopes for something not as convoluted and meandering as Dead Rising: Endgame, but the production values in this sequel seemed low, even for something on Crackle, but it is what it is, I suppose. The government conspiracy theme became a bit too heavy-handed and boring and the corporate greed stereotypical.

Dead Rising: Endgame is directed by Pat Williams and written by Michael Ferris and Tim Carter. Presented by Legendary Digital Media and produced by Tim Carter with Tomas Harlan as the executive producer via Contradiction Films. Distributed by Crackle

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