Directed by Rene Perez
Distributed by Left Films
Known in the US by its original title The Dead and the Damned, writer/director Rene Perez’s Western/horror hybrid finds itself donning the UK moniker Cowboys & Zombies. With the imminent theatrical release of Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens on the horizon, the marketing approach here is obvious even if it doesn’t quite reach The Asylum levels of cheek. Those guys probably would have titled it COWBOYS AND ALIENSpore zombies had they acquired it. That aside, it’s nevertheless a fitting alternate title as that’s exactly what the film dishes up: cowboys and zombies. It also, unfortunately, dishes up a hefty serving of poor acting, bad dialogue, shoddy CGI and, most terminally, boredom.
The plot, for what there is, concerns weedy bounty hunter Mortimer (Lockhart), who sets off to a generic small Western town with his sights on a Native American felon wanted for the rape and murder of a well-to-do young woman. For bait he purchases a young lady, Rhiannon (Montgomery), from a traveling vendor and leaves her tied up in a field(!) in order to draw out the beastly rapist. His plan works (even if the Injun only approaches to set the girl free rather than have his wicked way with her), and his quarry is successfully captured.
Meanwhile, a couple of local yokels come across a strange meteorite emitting an unearthly green glow and drag it back to town. With a full crowd gathered there, they do what any self-respecting yokel would do and crack that mother open – thereby releasing a cloud of fluorescent green spores that summarily turn the lot of them into hideous, growling, flesh-eating zombies! With a rival bounty hunter attempting to steal his trophy, Mortimer, Rhiannon and the stoic Indian are forced into an alliance in order to hold off the horde. A lack of originality in the screenplay department means that you can pretty much tell where the story is going from here, even if the final act does dish up one or two surprises.
So what does Cowboys & Zombies do right? Well, there are a few cool sequences – one in particular involving a pretty gnarly-looking scalped, blind zombie – and the prosthetic makeup effects throughout are notable given the budget. There’s also a decent amount of entertaining splatter once the zombies show up, and the ladies of the cast aren’t afraid to bare their impressive assets either. As with many indie efforts, though, the gratuitous nudity is simultaneously welcome and frustrating as much of it serves no purpose but to lengthen the runtime unnecessarily by glaring at a few tits.
On the flip side, almost everything else about the film is either sub-par or approaching diabolical. Lead actor David A. Lockhart is horribly miscast as Mortimer – a character that demands a rugged, no-bullshit approach but instead lacks physical presence and sports the mild-mannered voice of an out-of-his-depth teenager. See that badass looking dude on the cover art? Yeah… that ain’t him. That’s not to say that Lockhart isn’t a decent actor as he manages to do what he can with the material, but he simply isn’t the man for this job. On the other side of the acting fence is Rick Mora as the pursued Indian, Brother Wolf. His stilted, unconvincing line delivery makes the character’s superlatively stereotypical dialogue even more grating than its sheer laziness already does, and the film grinds to an absolute halt during one extended expository scene that sees the two actors wrestle with clunky discourse that even more seasoned thesps would struggle to naturalize.
Tack on top of that locations that look to be part of a Wild West Village attraction (oh, and a forest and some fields); CGI blood splatter that goes from horrendously implemented to unobtrusive and right back to horrendous again; an electric guitar-laden soundtrack that seems increasingly desperate to inject some sense of excitement into the multiple coma-inducing action sequences; costuming that at times appears to be straight from the local fancy dress store and a plot that really just leads absolutely nowhere, and you have a film that would be quite amusing if it weren’t so haplessly drawn-out. Take for example a late action sequence involving Mortimer fighting zombies in the woods: This one starts off with some visually pedestrian stomping around and shooting before dishing up a more inventive first-person approach. Rather than end with that, however, Perez chooses to run on with the scene for an inordinate length of time as the score’s guitar keeps desperately rockin’ and the audience keeps wishing that it would just end.
And, true to form with many a low-budget indie horror flick, that’s ultimately the fate of Cowboys & Zombies. With too little plot and too little visual imagination to justify a feature runtime, we’re left with plodding scenes of predictable exposition, poorly executed action and lingering gazes at bare breasts peppered with occasional minutes of something approaching genuine entertainment. If you really must have your zombie fix, then you may find something to appreciate here (not least in the aforementioned final scenes that in perfect “too little, too late” fashion begin to throw some curve balls), but expect your patience to be tried. It’s the gallows for this one, pardner!
1 1/2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5