COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES: Likeable Underachievers Of The Living Dead

Anyone toiling in the mines of low-budget genre cinema is on the lookout for a title that can instantly sell its attendent film to the right audience.  Cockneys Vs. Zombies is a great example of this concept in action: once you hear it, you know it’s going to include some shock horror elements plus a certain amount of regional pride and will deliver the combination with a nod and a wink.  Cockneys Vs. Zombies follows the aforementioned template neatly and, while the insults aren’t quite as foolproof as the filmmakers think they are, the results are suitably diverting for the horror crowd.

The opening scene plays like Guy Ritchie directing the beginning of a Hammer Mummy epic:  a couple of construction workers open a tomb they unearth in the middle of “gentrifying” the East End of London – and unwittingly unleash a long-trapped zombie plague.  Meanwhile, brothers Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadway) are plotting to rob a bank with some cohorts so they can get the necessary funds to save a retirement home that their grandpa Ray (Alan Ford) lives in.

The bank robbery is a botch but that’s a moot point – because the streets are soon overflowing with a gaggle of zombies that grows by the minute.  Terry and Andy escape with their cohorts and a few hostages, holing up in their would-be lair as they plot how to get back to Ray.  Meanwhile, Ray and his fellow seniors find themselves surrounded by their own gaggle of the undead.  Before the day is done, the two bands of survivors will have to reunite to escape the zombie hordes – but there will be a lot of life-and-death risk and zombie killing before that can happen.

As the title indicates, Cockneys Vs. Zombies is designed to be simple, straight-ahead fun for the audience that gets a kick out of zombie movies.  It places as much value on humor as it does on horror, following in the footsteps of the film it is destined to be compared with, Shaun Of The Dead.  Unfortunately, it falls a little short of such a comparison for a few reasons.  For starters, its scope is a little too broad, which means the characters have little time to establish themselves and fall into convenient, thinly-layered types.

Cockneys Vs. Zombies also pushes the humor a little too hard.  Comedy always plays best when it seems effortless and you can see both the filmmakers and the actors reaching for the laughs in Cockneys Vs. Zombies.  James Moran’s script traffics in a lot of easy-cliché comic setups – the horny old lady, the officious twit who won’t stop being officious even when in danger, the crazy guy with a metal plate in his head – and neither the script nor the cast offers fresh twists on these familiar concepts.  In fairness, there is a reasonable amount of laughs throughout – but about a third of the gags fall flat (for example, a running gag with Ford saying “don’t call me grandpa” wears out its welcome fast).

Finally, Cockneys Vs. Zombies seems uncomfortable with the “zombie” part of the equation.  The filmmakers treat the film as an adventure and, in a shocking move for a zombie film, manage to get through the story without killing off many of its protagonists: in fact, only one dies.  Both Moran and director Matthias Hoene have no hesitation when it comes to piling on over-the-top gore – there are gut spills, decapitations and so many bullets-to-the-head you’ll lose count – but they are weirdly squeamish about having any real scares, creepy atmosphere or putting the heroes in real danger.  Even Shaun Of The Dead, fun as it is, had moments where people we liked got killed and scenes where the horror component was allowed to take over.  Cockneys Vs. Zombies never does this and it lessens the film’s impact.

Despite these complaints, Cockneys Vs. Zombies remains enjoyable in its own underachieving kind of way.  Moran’s script is pace-conscious and eventful, a quality that carries over to Hoene’s snappy, cleanly stylish direction.  The last half-hour in particular plays really well as the reunited survivors get down to business and kick some zombie ass, resulting in a pair of killer setpieces in the pensioners’ home and on a dock as the survivors try to get to a boat.

Cockneys Vs. Zombies is also well-cast: Hardiker and Treadaway make a likeable loser-brother duo, ex-Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan offers a solid turn as the requisite tough-chick character and former Bond girl Honor Blackman brings a nice warmth to her pensioner character. The best of the bunch is Ford, a familiar face from Guy Ritchie’s English gangster flicks: he has instant gravitas as an aging tough guy and shows a great knack for deadpan humor.

In short, Cockneys Vs. Zombies is a modest but genial riff on the walking-dead genre.  It’s never quite as clever or laugh-out-loud funny as it would like you to believe it is but it hits its marks often enough to keep you watching, particularly during that rousing third act.

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