Has there been anything of worth in the world of zombies in the last five years or so? It feels like the last time the walking dead were relevant was Edgar Wright’s savvy send-up “Shaun of the Dead,” with a footnote to the genre being the angry politics of George A. Romero’s “Land Of The Dead” and the popular success of empty-headed ventures “World War Z” and “The Walking Dead.” There’s no shortage of zombies in the mainstream now, and the novelty of another skin-snacking apocalypse has worn off. You really need to bring a new gimmick to the table if you’re going with zombies. Hence, one-joke premises like “Cockneys Vs. Zombies.”
This plucky horror comedy plumbs depths we’ve seen before, though there’s some credit due to them burying the lede. The film starts out by following the sometimes-antagonist relationship between young brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway, Rasmus Hardiker) who are planning a poppycock bank heist. Terry’s smaller and less attractive, overcompensating by being the most overly obnoxious; it’s Andy who is the alpha male, hyper capable in a way that suggests he doesn’t get much done without his brother. He has a vast array of skills, but he’s seen in flashback wasting them in a series of bar fights.
The revelation is strategic, meant to establish these two as hoodlums before winning them over to our side. Their bounty isn’t made for flaunting, but to keep open an old folks home where dear old grandpa resides, even as he chastises them for having menial part-time jobs. It somehow is meant to make their Keystone Krooks hijinks more palatable, as well as the employment of a skeptical cousin (Michelle Ryan) who can’t help but raise an eyebrow to their plans. When she is given a thick mustache as a disguise, it sparks a discussion about the size of her bust. We’re also supposed to just accept that it’s perfectly normal for them to shrink in fear of the loose cannon they reluctantly recruit, the film’s only black man, and a vicious sociopath with a considerable track record of violence. Constant whip-crack flashbacks a la bad basic cable is this movie’s drug of choice.
Because these things happen, their bank siege coincides with a sudden zombie outbreak that swallows up the few barren London streets this low budget affair could afford to rent. Bumbling their way through a deceptively easy heist, they stumble out into the face of their shuffling, decaying zombie. What follows is what passes for excitement in any zombie-related entertainment in 2013: endless moments that allow our lead characters to be mass murderers with no restraint, and keep a very active (and skilled, it must be said) makeup crew in business, depicting a series of elaborate zombie murders.
These characters don’t seem to be the Cockneys of the title, however, leaving that honor to the crew still trapped in the old folks’ home. These surly, crusty old men and women can barely walk without breaking a hip, but they still find plenty of ways to trouble the shuffling dead in a series of sight gags that mock the elderly for being slow and absent-minded. In a sea of reanimated corpses, Alan Ford charmingly curses and elbows his way to the center of the frame. The aging star, who also had a similarly showy role in the similar direct-to-DVD mash-up “Strippers Vs. Werewolves” (uh-huh), digs into his part with glee. Matched with a game Honor Blackman, they provide the movie’s only real stab at pathos, suggesting a sliver of a life beyond the vanquishing of the walking undead.
As a movie, it’s quite an effects reel: “Cockneys Vs. Zombies” is a greatest hits package of your least demanding expectations given such a title. The mistake of many zombie films is that they pretend the resurrected corpses are the bad guys, which leads to tensionless "us vs. them" hokum, a cheap way to give sympathy and honor to potential survivors. They’re barely even trying, which is surprising given that this is hitting theaters and not skipping straight to an On-Demand platform. But you get what you asked for: there are Cockney accents in this film, and there are zombies. Somebody had to ask for it, so here it is. [D]