Shaun, a North London loser, is a disappointment to his girlfriend, family, friends and flatmate. Only his mate Ed, an even bigger loser, looks up to him. Then flesh-eating zombies overrun the city and Shaun is forced to take responsibility for the survival of his corner of humanity…
Somewhere out there is a movie graveyard for the careers of British comedians — successful in home entertainment — who died a death trying to make an impact on the big screen. For every break-out Peter Sellers or John Cleese there are a dozen disappointments, as national institutions such as Morecambe and Wise, Smith and Jones, and… um, Cannon and Ball land with a thud.
In Shaun Of The Dead, director-writer Edgar Wright and star-writer Simon Pegg — plus many of their mates from the innovative Channel 4 sitcom Spaced — spin off a Resident Evil sketch wrapped-up inside five minutes in one episode into a whole feature.
This is a rare TV-to-film transfer that retains the things you liked on television but still comes on like a proper (if low-budget and shambolic) movie. A difference between American crazy comedy and the British variety is that Hollywood always puts out pretend losers as leads — in Bruce Almighty, for instance, we’re supposed to accept Jim Carrey as a failure, though he has a job on television and is living with Jennifer Aniston; Pegg’ s Shaun watches a lot of television and is living with a friend from college
who hates the friend from primary school who’s on a permanent visit.
The point is not to make you feel good, but to prompt laughs of horrified recognition that we really are like that. The basic joke is that Shaun stumbles zombie-like through his regular life, not paying attention to the Night Of The Living Dead crisis taking place in the background, but shapes up when society falls apart and, though still essentially useless, becomes the best chance his friends have to survive (most of them, it’s fair to say, don’t).
It’s a workable premise and the early scenes, with unnoticed zombies on buses, working checkout tills or snogging in the street, are creepy-funny. But the film gets impatient (especially in two or three awkward ‘serious’ bits) and eventually winds up down the pub, with beer on the table, inappropriate music on an apparently malign jukebox and hordes of zombie flesh-eaters hammering at the doors as idiot Ed (Nick Frost) tries to cheer up his just-dumped mate with, “It’s not the end of the world.”
A surprisingly good TV transfer for the Spaced crew. It may not exactly be Ealing, but it’s funny for long stretches. Even when in danger of self-destructing, it cadges laughs with smart lines, silly observations or blokish inside jokes about zombie movies, video games and pub nibbles.
Reviewed by Kim Newman