Even more so than something comparable could be said about the unreadable “novel” it is based on, this is the cinematic equivalent of that Chinese-restaurant game, the one where you add “in bed” to whatever it says on your fortune cookie. Pride and Prejudice… and zombies. That is the entirety of the joke, and it’s just as stale as your fortune cookie. Of course, the germ of a potentially interesting idea is contained in this concept: Why do zombie apocalypses always seem to happen in the present day? Why not set one in the past? But understanding the answer to that first question — “Because zombie stories are metaphors for current cultural woes” — would be essential to crafting a zombie story set during the English Georgian era and making it work on even the shallowest level. Jane Austen’s novel is all about the culture of her day, and its woes, but writer-director Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud) has no use for Austen’s outlook: perhaps he doesn’t even understand it. Austen would find nothing droll in this Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James: Burnt) and this Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley: Suite Française) engaging in a physical battle, with bladed weapons, as a way of expressing the burgeoning attraction between them that confounds and discomforts them each separately; this would be the height of impropriety. And yet almost none of the cast seems to appreciate that they are appearing in what is ostensibly a comedy; even Austen’s zombie-free version is meant to be funny. The sole exception is Matt Smith (Terminator Genisys) as the ridiculous Bennet cousin Mr. Collins: the screen lights up only when he is on it. It’s unintentional, though, that this is, in fact, a Mr. Collins of a movie: fatuous, self-important, and nowhere near as smart or as elegant as it thinks it is. It’s meant to be amusing, I suspect, that Mr. Bennet’s (Charles Dance: Victor Frankenstein) advice to his daughters is “Keep your swords as sharp as your wit.” Except there isn’t a lick of wit to be found here.
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