Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mockbusted #17: Apocalypse Z

There is always a distinction that needs to be made between true mockbusters, those movies purposefully designed to be knockoffs of current or upcoming big budget films, and movies like Apocalypse Z. At first blush, Apocalypse Z would appear to be a mockbuster of World War Z, but really it is so in name only. That is to say, this was a completely different movie when it started (I can’t exactly say original given how derivative it is), and then they just changed the name to sound similar when they saw they were coming out around the same time as World War Z. That being said, considering how little World War Z tried to be different from every other zombie movie ever made, you could argue that any zombie movie coming out this year could be considered a mockbuster, and since there are typically hundreds and I have neither the time nor the inclination to watch them all, I’m gonna have to go with this to tide me over.

Apocalypse Z follows a tough as nails commando unit sent to an Eastern European village where a secret American experiment has created a horde of zombies that need wiped out before the virus spreads. The first thing I need to point out about this movie, because its one of those things that will either instantly compel you to see it, or instantly repel you from seeing it, is that it features one of the greatest cameo appearances in the history of cinema, from none other than famous schlock director Uwe Boll, playing the inexplicably German accented President of the United States, who can’t be bothered to micro-manage a zombie emergency because he’s too busy chilling out at his Texas vacation home with prostitutes. Even with the dated Bush parody, this is still incredibly awesome, and even though its only a few minutes long, it makes the movie, even before you get to some above average effects and action sequences (for a B movie anyway), which mostly distract you from the far below average acting.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Boll, who also produced the film, brought along his usual acting coach with his as well. I normally don’t comment on acting, because like special effect, it takes a really, really bad performance to ruin a movie for me, and as long as I can generally tell what’s going on, I tend to forgive that sort of stuff and focus on the plot and the character development, which should be the primary focus of any critical analysis. That being said…this is really, really bad. I’d say that maybe English wasn’t the first language of some of these actors if their foreign accents didn’t also sound so fake. Every line is either robotically flat or outlandishly over the top with no middle ground, and the editing is so sloppy that every line is punctuated by a pause that lasts just a little too long. Overall, I’d say the quality on this score falls somewhere in between Birdemic and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, if you can imagine Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers as the high point of any scale.

And yet, despite their wooden or otherwise amateurish performances, I still generally liked most if not all of these characters, for what they lack in talent behind them, they make up for in a cheesily kick ass exploitation of action movie clichés. Our round up is right out of a Reb Brown movie from the 80’s with a roll call of bad asses assembled for a secret mission, a trigger happy bomber, a devious sniper, a katana wielding samurai who I’m guessing was supposed to be Asian before they couldn’t find an Asian actress and just hired a mousy British lady, and their muscle bound ex-con leader who, yes really, just wants to get his daughter back. About half way through we're introduced to the one actor in the movie with even a little bit of acting skill, and ironically she's the least interesting character, and then we're right back to bad but awesome with a stereotypical Southern Redneck played by an actor who is quite obviously British.

The special effects and make-up are actually a lot better than you usually find in these sorts of movies, with a lot of actual prosthetic work to give the zombies a demonic presence rather than the typical pale face, veiny, milky white contact lens half assed zombie of most low budget fair. The opening scene is an explosion of stylish activity with an interesting twist presenting the virus being carried not just in the bites of other zombies, but also in a mysterious black rain that instantly seeps into your pours, though unfortunately this isn't followed up on at all in the rest of the movie. One notably good effect is the final act monster, a clear nod to the Tyrant from Resident Evil, so much so that he shares the same weakness of a rocket launcher to the face, and though there's literally no set up for what the thing is, its effective from a visual stand point anyway. The rest of the action is only barely passable and often clumsily presented, but its not so bad that I couldn't invest in what was going on, and it didn't drag nearly as much as the repetitive structure of World War Z did.

Its trifling, cliché and not much to write home about, but as straight to DVD zombie movies go, Apocalypse Z is probably a smidge better than the average example you can point to, at least nowadays. It embraces a sense of campy fun without winking at the audience every five minutes, and has a good handful of clever moments scattered throughout that rise above the otherwise well-worn story (wait till you see the severed head grenade trap). Its flaws are just slightly too numerous to let it into the surprisingly large group of mockbusters better than their source material, but if you're enough of a zombie devotee there's easily enough here to satisfy you. It seems fitting that a movie adapted from a book that only took the name and nothing else would have a mockbuster in name only. If you can't find it, try looking for it under the original title, Zombie Massacre.

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