“Overlord” grafts World War II combat movie cliches onto zombie and Frankenstein “Give my creature LIFE!” cliches, a D-Day with Monsters mashup with splendid firefights, digitally dazzling airdrop action and gruesome as all get out Nazi Walking Dead effects.
It’s such a slick spin on the two genres that it feels familiar, first scene to last. But when your whole concept is “Let’s give these cliches a new setting,” this “Re-animating Private Ryan,” “Frankenstein SS” or “The Zombies of Navarone” (I see a drinking game in the making) is rarely more than a grind. We know where it’s going, know the settings, know the action beats long before they show up. As comfortingly familiar as they are, the cliches play like a checklist from a screenwriting seminar.
They make the movie seem like it’s crawling along at half-speed.
Jovan Adepo (“Fences”) heads a little-known to unknown cast, playing Boyce, a “90 day wonder” in the 101st Airborne, dropped into Occupied France on the eve of D-Day.
It doesn’t pay to sweat the militaria in this, so don’t get caught up in “The Army wasn’t integrated in WWII” and the Screaming Eagles required a lot more training than 90 days pre-D-Day.
His squad, led by a crusty, foul-mouthed Sgt. (Bokeem Woodbine, fun), is to take out a German radio jamming station built into a church in a French village.
The Sarge gives his men, including the testy new guy (Wyatt Russell, Kurt’s son), the Jewish kvetcher (Dominic Applewhite), the combat-inept photographer (Iain De Caestecker) and the wisecracking Bronx Tale Italian (John Magaro) a call-and-response pep talk. His “ladies” need reminding that the Nazis are “destroying everything that’s good in this world. So what do we have to DO?”
“Our Goddamned JOBS, Sergeant!”
And then all Hell breaks loose — a waking nightmare of anti-aircraft explosions, shrapnel slaughter, a fire on their C-47 Dakota and a frantic CGI plummet into Hitler’s Inferno topped by plunging into a lake.
The handful of survivors are surrounded by Germans, now led by the testy Corporal and still with that “save D-Day” mission, knocking out that tower by dawn.
Fortunately, a French lass who speaks English (Matthilde Ollivier) is wandering the woods amidst all the carnage and combat. She will take them to town.
There’s a long, chatty and noisy interlude in Chloe’s house, where her cute little brother longs to play baseball with the Americans and her aunt, who has been “helped” by the German doctor in town, looks like every George A. Romero extra ever.
The rumpled, chain-smoking SS officer (Pilou Asbæk of “Game of Thrones”) must be captured and interrogated — “Zis is VAR, eh? Pipple die in many UNFORTUNATE vays!”
And eventually, they remember to get around to their urgent, desperate and against-the- odds mission.
J.J. Abrams produced “Overlord” and his touches are everywhere. The film has a lovely sheen, the darkness lit up by acres of light blimps (no doubt), the explosions and monstrous effects have a no-expense-spared gloss.
It never feels less than big budget (save for the cast), even if it the strain of every contrived moment shows. Of course the child is taken, naturally Boyce stumbles into the leftover “Captain America” sets of the science lab/underground lair.
The characters may be “types” borrowed from scores of films (a sniper with a “Put me in range of Hitler” boast stolen straight from “Saving Private Ryan”), but every now and then, a funny line crosses their lips.
“Add it to the list.”
Adepo makes a fine, surrogate-for-the-audience lead, Magaro can handle a punchline and Russell has a lot of screen presence. Ollivier has a sexy spitfire air and Asbæk makes a perfectly vile villain. Still, the characters are never more than cartoons, and they spent no money or screen time doing much hiring a proper mad scientist, a mistake “Captain America” didn’t make.
One pitfall of building your movie out of recycled materials is always going to be pacing. When every character is cardboard, every scene is preordained, you have to get more pop out of the performances and move this damned thing along. Director Julius Avery (“Son of a Gun”) was never going to be a guy to sprint us through the usual J.J. Abrams bloat.
“Overlord” has a “just work with me here” vibe, an invitation to “just go with it” goes without saying. But at some point, this 85 minute genre mashup in a 110 minute package, with its assaultive soundtrack and requisite shock-effect images, sucking chest wounds and mangled corpses coming back to life, just wore on me.
It crawls from “Sure, great,” to “OK, expected that” and onward, ever onward to “All right, get on with it” far too slowly to be that much fun.
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Mathilde Ollivier, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker and Bokeem Woodbine
Credits:Directed by Julius Avery, script by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith. A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:49