By Matt Singer
[Photo: “Fido,” Roadside Attractions, 2007]
You really want to like “Fido,” but boy does the movie makes it difficult. It presents a smart premise and then squanders it. It has a great cast but doesn’t take advantage of their talents. It tries to send up Sirkian melodrama and the old “Lassie” TV show and winds up looking like a Sci Fi Channel movie: professional, competent with a clever genre hook, but lacking in style and artistry.
Zombies always lend themselves to social or cultural metaphors (see this week’s feature for further evidence). Co-writer/director Andrew Currie uses them to examine a dependable horror trope; namely, the dangers of suburban conformity. The picture is set in an alternate version of Eisenhower’s America, after a brutal war between man and zombies. Humanity survived, thanks to the help of an oh-so-benevolent corporation called ZomCom, and it is they who now provide this world with all its goods and services, from the cars they drive right down to the milk they drink. They’ve also tamed many of the zombies. Some are even used as servants.
The film follows the Robinson family, who buy a zombie butler (It’s Mr. Belvedead!). Dad (Dylan Baker) is frightened of it because he’s pretty much frightened of everything. Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) sees it as a status symbol at first, but then grows to like and even perhaps love the creature. Their bullied son Timmy (K’Sun Ray) is so desperate for companionship that he begins to treat it like a pet; he calls the zombie (played by Billy Connolly) Fido and says things like “You’re not so bad, are ya boy? Why’d you have to go and eat Mrs. Henderson?”
It’s an appealing idea for a zombedy, even if the sight of Timmy treating his zombie like an animal is actually more pathetic than humorous, but there are some flaws in the execution. Because Currie’s undead are zombies in the classic Romero mould i.e. pale gray skin, grunting and a complete lack of fine motor skills he is able to make a lot of jokes at their expense. Fido can’t serve the family dinner, he can’t play catch with Timmy, he can’t go, shall we say, “off leash” without trying to eat the neighbors. But if zombies are so uncoordinated and flat-out dangerous, why would anyone keep them in their home? Well, obviously, so Currie can make a movie about it.
The concept only starts to pay real dividends in an uproarious sequence that takes the otherwise subtle “Lassie” overtones and brings them to the fore. Timmy gets himself into trouble, so Fido runs off and finds Mom, who asks, with deadpan sincerity, “What’s wrong? Where’s Timmy?” Connolly plays the scene beautifully, slowly transforming his zombie’s usual growl into an adorable, concerned whimper.
If only the rest of “Fido” had as much, ahem, bite. Ray certainly looks every bit the wide-eyed innocent but his performance is flat; as if he’s never seen any of the stuff he satirizing. Baker and Moss give inappropriately subdued performances; the only true standout aside from Connolly is character actor Henry Czerny, who digs into his role as ZomCom’s chief of security.
The period atmosphere is on target, but not particularly original: some of the soundtrack is cribbed from “L.A. Confidential” and the overall tone of familial disarray in the face of supernatural ’50s shenanigans seems lifted from “The Iron Giant.” And, really, there are only so many films you can “homage” before you need to bring a little to the table yourself. Currie just doesn’t bring enough. “Fido”‘s like a bad pet: you disapprove of what it does on the rug, but you still kind of like it anyway.
“Fido” opens in limited release on June 15th (official site).