For all those naysayers who have bemoaned that video games simply do not make good movies, get ready to…moan a little more. As adapted from the Dead Rising video game franchise, Dead Rising: Watchtower takes place in a staggeringly ill-defined world where zombies have taken over a large portion of Oregon, an area that is now controlled by a FEMA-like agency called (wait for it) FEZA. (Would that make them the Federal Emergency Zombie Agency? That doesn’t seem right.) Its unclear how the zombie virus is being passed on but the government has cooked up a vaccine, one that keeps the virus at bay via daily doses. How could this possibly go wrong?
Well, not but 10 or so minutes into this utterly inoffensive, if mind-numbing horror-action bonanza does the vaccine grow ineffective, causing the zombie madness to kick back into high gear. On the ground is Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe), an ambitious internet-television personality, alongside his trusty camerawoman, Jordan (Keegan Connor Tracy). They’re trying to get a scoop when the zombies start stirring up all sorts of hell, separating the duo amidst the bloody, gore-heavy chaos. Outside the gates, Chase teams up with Maggie (Virginia Madsen), a grieving mother, and Crystal O’Rourke (Meghan Ory), a mysterious ass-kicker who, somehow, has a hook-up for a working vaccine. Meanwhile, Jordan is stuck in quarantine, witnessing a whole bunch of bureaucratic indifference to human life at the hands of FEZA and a duplicitous general (Dennis Haysbert) who wants to firebomb the place to ensure humanity’s future.
Both stylistically and narratively, Dead Rising: Watchtower lands somewhere between Zach Snyder’s lousy Dawn of the Dead remake and the more sanctimonious and boring parts of Outbreak. Like both of those movies, there’s a baseline of filmmaking competency to all of this, thanks to Zach Lipovsky, the man behind Leprechaun: Origins. As Chase, Maggie, and Crystal find themselves at odds with a brutal gang of neo-barbarians, led by Logan (Aleks Pauvonic), Lipovsky sprinkles the run-of-the-mill action sequences with a few inventive deaths; the zombie father eating the remains of his child out of a front-pack as if it were a burrito would be my top pick.
For the most part, however, Lipovsky’s film just comes off like a version of the video game that you can’t play, excising what is the most inviting element of the game. There’s also a potent desperation in Tim Carter’s script to connect with the younger generation by making phone-shot videos, social media sharing, YouTube hits, and digital photographs all essential parts of the overworked plot. The performers are dutiful but none of them command the screen in any believable way, with the notable exceptions of Haysbert and Madsen, who both. That being said, it’s the film’s general air of familiar aimlessness and careful evasion of anything that could be misconstrued as daring that makes the film borderline amiable, to the point that the cutting intermittently to a ridiculous, tonally awkward back-and-forth between a journalist, Frank West (Rob Riggle), and an anchorwoman, Susan (Carrie Genzel), only seems moderately uncaring and messy. Indeed, Dead Rising: Watchtower is one of those rare cases where “it could have been worse” should be counted as a strange but wholly sincere kind of praise.
Dead Rising: Watchtower is currently streaming on Crackle.
★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated