Movie Review: Kiwi stoner talks to the “Dead”

As dark comedies about communicating with ghosts go, “Dead” falls closer to “The Frighteners” than “Ghost Town.” It’s funny enough in a stoner comedy way, but as its got a serial killer in it, well, you see my point.

Written by and co-starring New Zealanders Thomas Sainsbury and Hayden J. Weal (who also directed it), this funny film struggles to strike a balance between the daft and the dark, between sweetness and slaughter.

Sainsbury is Dane “Marbles” Marbec, a grinny “coaster” (slacker) who rides a dorky motor scooter when he goes to visit the recently bereaved. He’s there to serve as a “conduit” between the ghost and those that ghost left behind.

No, he can’t properly pronounce “conduit” and yes he mixes up “consolation” with “constellation.” Because he’s a bit dim and pot-addled. Half the time, he doesn’t even charge his “clients” for consulting with them, seeing if he can help the dead “pass over.”

As we remember from oh-so-many variations of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” (“Ghost” et al), sometimes the dead have unfinished business. Usually, it’s just a tearful admission of love, and sweet stoner Marbles is just the man to deliver that message.

But then this cop, Jason Tagg (Weal) wakes up with no pants and a lot of questions. He’s not even in proximity with his body. How could he be dead?

There was this one pothead he rousted a time or two, guy who claimed he could speak to ghosts. Maybe he’ll help.

Marbles takes an injection — his own accidental discovery — and “I see ghosts.” He wants nothing to do with this Wellington policeman’s last case. He’ll be a “con do EET” for the guy to say farewell to his half-sister Yana (Tomai Ihaia). But that’s it.

Events conspire to convince him otherwise, and soon they’re on the case — the tough veteran of the force and the doughy, accident-prone pothead who is little more than “untapped potential.”

Sainsbury, of  the recent “Guns Akimbo” and the dizzy and just-released “Alien Addiction,” makes a marvelously-passive foil to Weal’s muscular, mustachioed cop Tagg.

But their “Dead” pairing never feels as conventional as that set-up suggests. Marbles may not know how to pronounce “insignia,” but he’s observant, loyal and compassionate. And Tagg has his soft side, along with intimacy issues.

Tagg’s edgy, alcoholic lawyer sister Yana might be just another person to push Marbles around, but she picks up on his vulnerability and his on-the-spectrum awkwardness and is charmed, a not entirely-unexpected turn of events.

The later acts see “Dead” turn a tad stiff (ahem) and violent, but losing its early comic momentum is a common film failing, and they did choose to have serial killing as a major plot point.

All in all, thought, you can’t say this latest dark Kiwi Comedy lets down the brand or the side.

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, innuendo

Cast: Thomas Sainsbury, Hayden J. Weal, Tomai Ihaia, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Jess Sayer and Kayne Peters

Credits: Directed by Hayden J. Weal, script by Thomas Sainsbury, Hayden J. Weal. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:31

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