Monday, April 27, 2009

Movie Review: Livelihood (2005)

LIVELIHOOD - Zombie Comedy - Poster Image

Written by Curtis Crispin, Ryan Graham, & Tracey Graham
Directed by Ryan Graham

Steve Thomas...Billy Jump
Scott Graham...Alexander Keaton
Michelle Trout...Vida
Amy Smith...Jean
Lewis Smith...Roger
Kara Webb...Zoey Endicott

There's a full-scale zombie epidemic sweeping across the nation, but it's unlike any outbreak that you've seen before. These zombies aren't hungry for human flesh and entrails. According to FUX News 45, they are "sedate and confused," wanting only to get back to their friends, family and jobs. In general, they just want their old lives back. The world of the living isn't exactly greeting them with open arms, though, seeing the reanimated corpses as lower life (death?) forms to be ignored, used and exploited.

This film concentrates on only three members of the undead hoard. First off, we have Billy Jump, a world famous hair band rock-n-roller who died in a drug-fueled electric guitar accident in 1988. Upon his resurrection, he attempts to get the old band back together to land a contract with Kash Grab Records; Next we have Alexander Keaton, a severely pussy-whipped office drone who was decapitated by a samurai (seriously!), and becomes a laughing stock at the hands of his overbearing, crooked former employer (culminating in some sharp Chaplin-esque moments); And finally we have Vida, an evil stepmother type who moves back in with her spineless son and Jean, his Cinderella type wife who may or may not have slipped her some poison pudding. Sounds like a juicy little soap opera to me!

If you go into this film expecting another Shaun of the Dead (or even the less laudable Dead and Breakfast), you will be genuinely disappointed. It's not a horror movie, and it's not even a horror comedy, not really. It's simply a comedy, whose leads just happen to be zombies. In general, the Munsters are more horrifying. But if you know what you're getting into--a dark comedy with a dash of horror elements, you'll probably get a kick out of this venture. The acting, camera work and sound are all good considering the low budget, and much of the dialogue is nearly genius in that irreverent sort of way.

It's a boy-meets-girl, boy-makes-good, slice-of-life, spoof/satire--kind of what you would expect if you genetically spliced American Zombie with the Scary Movie franchise. It also manages to throw in a fair amount of social commentary, although to be honest, it was more than drowned out by the sophomoric humor than ran throughout. The special effects were passable, but the make-up effects were generally pretty poor--but you can't blame the filmmakers for that. On a budget of only $4,000, I have seen far more money go far shorter distances.

Interspersed throughout the movie, we have spot-on snippets of news reports, television commercials, infomercials, music videos, etc... basically pop culture's response to the zombie plague. And, as is usual with pop culture, it's all about making a quick buck from the (excuse me) brainless consumer. But hell, it worked on me. I've been scouring the drug stores in search of Pitt Wax deodorant for the past week or so. Talk about XXXtreme!

The music was very important in this film, and it knocked it out of the park. As much as I tend to despise their respective genres, I couldn't help but groove along with the Billy Jump Band or Junior 'Senior' Young Jenkins III. Interestingly enough, the Billy Jump Band is portrayed by the unlikely-named Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad, a real arthouse garage band that features the director on guitar. Be sure to watch the "The Real Billy Jump Band" featurette under the special features to catch a glimpse at their bizarre, yet unquestionably appealing, music.

Livelihood does suffer from the same ailment that many first-time independent feature films suffer from: Chubby Film Syndrome. That is to say, a little more editing would have gone a long way to tightening up the pace. Considering there are roughly 30 minutes of deleted scenes (including one that I thought was amazing and should have been left in, riffing on American Psycho), the director obviously wasn't afraid to trim the fat, but another Slimfast Shake and a jog around the park would have been helpful.

As with all things, you have to take the good along with the bad, and hope that in the end, you come up on the plus side. Overall, Livelihood was a hell of a fun ride that fans of the aforementioned American Zombie would be well advised to check out. With a bit more experience and a little more money, these guys could very well do some amazing things.

Not Rated
103 Minutes
United States

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