Author Seth Grahame-Smith has dined out on the winning combination of stitching together two incongruous things – one high-brow, one low – and letting the concept do the heavy lifting. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” gave readers, and then movie-going audiences, an axe-twirling Honest Abe.
His other literary soft-serve swirl hits theaters this weekend: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” The cheeky adaptations offer a chuckle at the title, but there’s not much else to sink your teeth into. But while “Abraham Lincoln” resulted in a rather disastrous action flick, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a post-modern genre mashup of Jane Austen, zombies and martial arts that ends up being rather “exceedingly tolerable,” to quote Mr. Darcy.
The best thing the film has going for it is its knowing winking at the unlikely pairing of mannered 18th-century aristocratic English society with the brutal and gory violence of the modern-day zombie movie. The violence adds a kick to Austen’s sophisticated and layered text – the verbal jabs are now accented with body blows, a mix that offers a strange delight. For every time that Keira Knightley bit her tongue and repressed her emotions playing the feisty Elizabeth Bennett in Joe Wright’s filmed version of “Pride and Prejudice,” Lily James gets to deliver a cathartic roundhouse kick right to Mr. Darcy’s (Sam Riley) smug nose.
This version will most likely tickle fans of “Pride and Prejudice” (or those who know some version of it) more than the zombie maniacs. It’s not a great zombie movie, but it is a fun reimagining of Austen’s book, finding laughs in the recognition of characters and quotes.
It follows the story rather closely, only this time, the Bennett girls have trained in China in Shaolin-style martial arts at the behest of their father (Charles Dance). Zombies are woven into the history of this version of England, and the warrior sisters arm themselves with weapons on their way to a ball, giggling over handsome Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth).
The Bennett sisters engage in the agonies of courtship in the same way as the Grahame-Smith book – there’s just more shooting the heads off the undead. Supporting characters contribute color to this mixed culture of landed gentry and zombie slaying, particularly Matt Smith as the bumbling Parson Collins, as well as the lauded zombie assassin Lady Catherine (Lena Headey), in pantaloons and a purple eye patch.
However, the feature film length stretches the thin conceit too far. The story itself isn’t the pleasure – that’s found in the unlikely, though apt, pairing of Elizabeth Bennett and deadly weapons. As the sisters stomp in slow motion into a party full of zombies, it’s applause worthy because it looks so cool (thanks to directing duties by Burr Steers). But that’s about it.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
☆ ☆ 1/2
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Douglas Booth, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Matt Smith.
Director: Burr Steers.
Length: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (zombie violence and action, brief suggestive material).