Shaun of the Dead (review)

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“It’s not the end of the world,” Shaun’s pal Ed soothes after Shaun is dumped by his girlfriend, Liz. But what if it is? What if all those unheeded news reports on TVs in the background about mysteriously deorbiting space probes wreaking havoc and the constant whine of emergency sirens out in the streets and — oh yeah — all those corpses rising from the grave to shuffle the streets of London mean the world really is coming to an end? Are we supposed to believe these two occurrences are a mere coincidence? Or is one of the world’s major cities at the angst-ridden mercy of a mild-mannered appliance salesman and the psychic projection of his romantic misery?

I mean, who, precisely, said you couldn’t have a zombie romantic comedy? Why can’t the male lead express his undying devotion for his ladylove by bashing dead people in the head with a cricket bat? Honestly, isn’t the real question: Why did it take so long for someone to combine the meet-cute with the undead feasting on entrails?

Actually, Shaun of the Dead — which is, hands down, the absolutely funniest, wittiest, best movie title of the year; the movie itself ranks pretty highly on the must-see list — isn’t the kind of romantic comedy in which a perky heroine and a handsome hero meet cute. But you knew that already. Instead, it’s the kind of romantic comedy that approaches exploring the aggita and the hassle of real relationships: people who aren’t compatible on the commitment level; frustration with someone who takes you a wee bit for granted, perhaps. It just happens to explore these things in the midst of a citywide zombie attack. It also just happens to torment the tender heart of Shaun (Simon Pegg: The Reckoning), who’s devastated by the sudden loss of the one sure and steady person in his life, and the steely resolve of Liz (Kate Ashfield: Beyond Borders), who would like more out of life than a quick drink down the pub with Shaun and his mates every night, with a brand of affable, self-effacing British humor that’s either — heh — your cup of tea, or it isn’t. You know what I’m talking about: winking nods to the supposed British unflappability, jokes about tea and stolid mums and hanging out down the pub, and the kind of razor-sharp observational humor that you almost miss if you’re not paying attention: “I’ve got things I wanna do with my life,” the 30ish Shaun explains to a snide teenage coworker in the appliance shop. “When?” the kid quips.

Pegg wrote the script with director Edgar Wright — they apparently are responsible for some hilarious TV comedy in Britain; my cable company wanders a BBC America–less wasteland, so I can’t say for sure. But I believe it. Because in addition to skewering the clichés of splatter flicks — from the not-dead’s misunderstanding of what exactly is wrong with all those weird shuffling people to methods of attack (including one featuring vinyl record albums that’s outrageously funny, super geeky, and even a little touching) to the assorted Scooby gang that typically inhabits these kinds of films — they have captured onscreen a creature previously believed (by me, at least) not to have existed, the Loch Ness Monster of movie humor: the nongratuitous fart joke. I’d believed in the theoretical application of flatulence but never seen it in action until now: Pegg and Wright (in a scene that features Nick Frost as Ed) have imbued the breaking of wind with poignancy, tenderness, and hope. And I’m not even kidding.

Anyway, put the kettle on. Shaun of the Dead is as funny — in a Monty Python–meets–George Romero kind of way — as it is gut-drippingly gory. I laughed so hard — which the movies hardly ever make me do — that I needed a coupla cups of tea afterward to recover.

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