I had completely forgotten a Dead Rising movie even existed. I remembered hearing about it before it came out, then I guess at some point it must have actually come out because well, I was able to watch it. I believe it was a free movie offered through Crackle. I have seen another of Crackle’s movie offerings. That would be Joe Dirt 2, and it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever sat through, so their eye for quality didn’t inspire much hope in me for this one.
Dead Rising tells the story of Chase. Chase is a reporter who is not Frank West and has to deal with zombies. He encounters other survivors and they too have to deal with zombies. There’s also the typical threats of needed to get out of an area before the army firebombs the entire place and wipes everything out. It is absolutely nothing you haven’t seen countless times before in most any piece of zombie fiction. It’s almost comforting in a way to get back to the tropes of the zombie world after Maggie took me further away from them.
I will start by saying that Dead Rising: Watchtower (I’m just going to drop Watchtower from the title going forward because it’s largely meaningless) is surprisingly faithful to the video games. Chase uses a variety of stitched together weapons, such as the saw blade crossed with a sledgehammer, to wipe out zombies, which is likely the most iconic element of the video games. Zombrex (the drug that keeps you from becoming a zombie once you’ve been bitten) of course plays a heavy role in the plot. Dialogue is lifted straight from the games (a character yelling “Welcome to the after party” for no real reason other than it’s from the third game) and in a bizarre moment, we actually see a character playing Dead Rising 2 in the third act.
Although Chase may not be a video game protagonist, they do get Frank West in here in a way that feels particularly forced. He’s played by Rob Riggle in a series of scenes that show they clearly got him for one afternoon and tried to make the most of it. He’s being interviewed on a TV news show, and I guess is also being used as a zombie consultant (the events he was involved in for the first game have taken place already in the fiction of this movie) as he seems to hang around the studio for a very long time. His scenes are spliced in throughout the movie and always feel completely out of place. Riggle has always been hit and miss for me and this felt like a big miss. I think he is a fine choice to portray West, and I respect they wanted the character in the movie, but each one of these scenes is forced and not funny. His schtick is the same every time, repeating the different ways people are fucked because there are zombies. It never truly worked and it just breaks the flow of the movie. He does say “I’ve covered wars you know” because of course he needed to say that and yes, it too feels very shoe horned in.
While I can respect the attempts made to have the movie resemble the games, one area they botched it in my opinion is in tone. Dead Rising is a real silly franchise. That’s what has always made it stand out to me. The movie doesn’t capture that outside of a handful of moments. The majority of the proceedings could fit into just about any zombie movie. Nearly every moment and piece of dialogue is something you have heard or seen countless times. Almost nothing outside of the direct game references feels unique. I feel if you’re going to adapt Dead Rising, you need to fully lean into the crazy. You need to embrace it. Have Chase sticking mascot heads on top of zombies and putting chainsaws on the sides of motorcycles or dressing up like Mega Man and shooting people with a blaster from the future. Make the whole thing a borderline live action cartoon. Maybe at one point that was the plan and they decided people wouldn’t be into it, but at least it would have been something interesting. What we have here may as well have been called Zombie Movie. It needed more of the sense of fun that permeates though the games.
Dead Rising is not a bad movie, just an unremarkable one. I was never bored, even though the movie does run a little too long at about 110 minutes. The references to the game are appreciated, outside of the Frank West stuff which was a one joke idea done at least a dozen times. Oh and there’s a cool set piece in the middle where Chase wipes out a series of zombies in one continuous take. More stuff like that and we may have had a winner but as it stands, we have another satisfactory zombie movie which I would argue isn’t something we were in desperate need for.