“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has but one joke, and it’s in the title.
The joke is almost amusing the first time it’s trotted out, and doesn’t improve with an hour and forty-eight minutes of repetition.
Take away the zombies, and it’s a reasonably good-looking but feebly cast and heartless Jane Austen adaptation. Take away the Jane Austen novel underpinnings, and it’s just another variation on the zombie plague, this times showing how 18th century Britain coped. The upper classes barely miss a two-step or reel or round of whist.
That may have been the point of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel, a statement on manners and class and “There’ll always be an England,” even after the dead have become undead. But it’s muddled and all but ignored in Burr Steers’ adaptation.
So the rich send their children, sons AND daughters, off to learn the martial arts of the exotic east. Snobs send them to China. Bigger snobs send theirs to Japan.
The Bennett girls — five of them — pack pistols and muskets and swords and stilettos — the knives, not the high heels.
They still love going to balls and dream of finding their love match, preferably somebody rich. But when the chips are down and their brains are under attack, they slash and behead and hack their way through the undead in a manner George A. Romero would be proud to call his own.
Lizzie (Lily James, almost too pretty) is their plucky leader. Proud, humbled by the fact her dottie mother considers sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) “the pretty one,” she’s a warrior princess with legs and an fetching Empire waistline/bustline.
Then Mr. Darcy (“That’s COLONEL Darcy.”) with his haughty, mistrusting, kill-first, ask forgiveness later upper class ways shows up in Hertfordshire. He (Sam Riley of “Control” and “Maleficent”) is a veteran zombie killer who packs his own flies. They’re drawn to rotting flesh, which is how he roots out those who’ve been bitten in a crowded card game.
The dapper Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) is here, the insufferably smarmy Parson Collins (Mat Smith). And you just know there’s something untrustworthy about that dashing soldier and veteran Darcy-hater, Mr. Whickham (Jack Huston).
Parson Collins’ “patron,” Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has evolved from dowager to a hot and hot-headed zombie slayer played by Lena Headey (“300”).
And aside from the carefully timed-out zombie assaults and the increasingly gory if not increasingly clever means of dispatching those walking dead, that’s all there is to this.
Riley makes a lousy, hoarse-voiced Darcy. James sets off no sparks with him, suggests no heartbreaking longing. If you want to make a point about women liberated by a zombie invasion into independent-minded martial arts warriors, why do it with one of the greatest romance novels of all time? There’s barely a laugh here, and nothing resembling human emotion.
The Austen movie mania ended when they ran out of novels, though the BBC and PBS took a shot at redoing them all. This zombie fad, spawning endless revamps of George A. Romero’s formula on the big screen and ongoing cable TV hits for those with short memories or no desire to see something fresh or go out to a movie, shows no sign of abating.
But one can hope that you “Pride” flop, maybe at long last we’ll see the undead shuffle, slowly, off into the darkness and back beneath the damp soil from which they came.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Lena Headey
Credits: Written and directed by Burr Steers, based on the Seth Grahame-Smith spoof of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” A Sony/Screen Gems release.
Running time: 1:48