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Thursday, September 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Shaun of the Dead": From pink-skinned loser to heroic zombie chaser

Seattle Times movie critic

Poor Shaun (Simon Pegg) — his life is full of obstacles. His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is tired of spending all of her evenings at the local pub. His job, as a salesman at Foree Electronics, is soul-deadening. His flat-mate Ed (Nick Frost, who looks like a larger, seedier Ben Affleck) keeps telling him to sort his life out. He can't even give money to a beggar without dropping it, or walk to the corner store without tripping. And, on the morning that "Shaun of the Dead" begins, he's got a new obstacle: Zombies have taken over London. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by Pegg and Wright, "Shaun" is a wonderfully funny spoof of zombie movies (particularly George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" and "Night of the Living Dead") — and of the kind of life that can turn a man into the walking dead. In his white short-sleeve dress shirt and red tie (it's his work uniform; clearly he can't be bothered to change), Shaun wanders the streets, not noticing that everyone else is staggering, with their heads to one side. He's wrapped up in his own tiny world, and until a female zombie turns up in his garden, he takes no notice of what's happened. He's dead in his own way; a pink-skinned loser, overwhelmed by life.

Nonetheless, in this new world order, Shaun must become a hero. His transformation, slow and steady, is hilarious to behold. After a sit-down to ponder the problem, Shaun and Ed hatch a plan: They'll go fetch Liz (and, as it turns out, a few hangers-on), then cross town to collect Shaun's mum (Penelope Wilton), then gather at the pub. All this is easier said than done — zombies may move slowly, but they cover a lot of ground.

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

***
"Shaun of the Dead," with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Dylan Moran. Directed by Edgar Wright, from a screenplay by Pegg and Wright. 99 minutes. Rated R for zombie violence/gore and language. Several theaters.
The movie runs out of steam a bit as it staggers, zombielike, to its conclusion, but for most of its running time "Shaun of the Dead" is good fun. Wright and Pegg contribute a myriad of funny details (I quite liked the dead-eyed zombie cashiers), and the cast seems to be having a ball. Wilton, in particular, is a scream as gentle-voiced Mum, who delays the group's flight while she makes nourishing sandwiches for everyone. (Asked about a zombie encounter, she demurs politely, "well, they were a bit bitey.")

And there's a marvelous, almost throwaway moment where Shaun and his ragtag band of survivors meet up with another group who look, mysteriously, a great deal like Shaun's group. "Shaun! How's it going!" says Yvonne, the leader of that gang. Bloodthirsty zombies may be advancing upon them, but everyday pleasantries must be observed. (Fans of British television will want to watch Yvonne's group closely: According to Wright and Pegg, each member is a major British TV star, having fun with a cameo.)

Those who know Romero's movies will have fun looking for the many tributes hidden in "Shaun"; but anyone with a taste for black comedy will likely have a good time here. Real life and horror-film convention blend cheerfully in this film. When Nick sees a zombie with a hole in her midsection, he does what most of us would instinctively do: He winds his camera.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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