Review: Zombie comedy 'The Dead Don't Die' barely alive

Jim Jarmusch casts all his friends in his zom-com, but can barely find a pulse

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Adam Driver and Bill Murray in "The Dead Don't Die."

If "The Dead Don't Die" were any drier, it would evaporate. 

Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy is delivered in such suffocating deadpan style that it's difficult to tell who the joke's on, the cast — a who's who of indie stars and Jarmusch vets — or the audience. 

Bill Murray is Cliff Robertson, the sheriff in a sleepy Pennsylvania town, and Adam Driver is Ronnie Peterson, his deputy. They drive around in a patrol car listening to Sturgill Simpson singing the film's theme song, "The Dead Don't Die." "Why does that sound so familiar?" Cliff asks, moments after the song is played over the film's opening credits. "Well, 'cuz it's the theme song," answers Ronnie. (Pause, hold for effect.)

Soon enough, the town is overrun by a zombie plague, the result of polar fracking tipping Earth off its axis. Iggy Pop plays one of the undead ghouls, a genius stroke of casting and the role Iggy was born to play. While consuming a body he gets distracted and heads for a coffee pot. It's a Jarmusch movie, of course coffee is going to be preferable to blood. 

The story is as loose as most of the character's wardrobes, which look like they were purchased at a costume shop. RZA shows up as a delivery driver for WU-PS, Tom Waits is a scraggly bearded homeless man, Selena Gomez is a young hipster from Cleveland, and Tilda Swinton is a Scottish samurai. "She's strange," Chloë Sevigny's cop says about Swinton's character. "She's Scottish," Cliff answers. "She's Scottish?" asks Ronnie. (Pause, hold for effect.)

Jarmusch tacks on some commentary about how maybe we're the zombies, drifting aimlessly through our lives. It would have more impact if it didn't feel like he phoned this one in from the land of the undead.


'The Dead Don't Die'


Rated R: for zombie violence/gore, and for language

Running time: 103 minutes