As a horror and videogame fan, Dead Rising was a godsend for me. The dream of re-enacting Dawn Of The Dead-like moments in a modern shopping mall setting was finally here (if you could get past the fact that your health constantly drained in Infinity Mode). Mowing down mobs of zombies with practically anything that wasn’t nailed down was a blast. With the game’s success, it seemed like another videogame-to-film adaptation was a no-brainer. While Zombrex: Dead Rising Sun was released in 2010 and was set in the Dead Rising universe, it wasn’t until four years later that a film more closely based on the actual game series, Dead Rising: Watchtower, got underway. So, just how close is the film to the actual games (and what/how many liberties are taken)? Stock up on Jill’s Sandwiches, we’re going in.
Taking place between Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2, a zombie outbreak that started in the fictional city of East Mission, Oregon is threatening to spread. In response, FEZA (Federal Emergency Zombie Authority) has created Zombrex, a daily vaccine that delays the effects of the infection. As expected, there’s a shortage. Investigating in the middle of East Mission’s quarantine zone is reporter Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe). Unfortunately for Chase, his investigation leads him to becoming trapped in the city. Making matters worse is the fact that the army is doing a seek-and-destroy mission to clean out the city. Chase must team up with a group of other survivors to not only avoid the military and the zombies to escape, but also avoid a roving motorcycle gang that are dishing out their own terror on human and zombie alike.
Being that this is the first Crackle Original Movie, it’s nice that they didn’t skimp on the production values. The film certainly doesn’t look like your cheesy B-movie fare like you’d see on SyFy. While we don’t get to see the massive horde of zombies that swarmed the mall as in the first game, and some of the blood and gore are obvious CGI, the sets and props all look authentic. There are, of course, shout-outs to the games in a variety of forms, most notably Frank West, the weapon combining, the cheesy rock music and Chase’s bloody Servbot t-shirt. Also, props to director Zach Lipovsky for including some interesting shots like weapon and zombie POVs. Obviously, there’s a bit of shakycam involved, but it’s understandable.
Speaking of Frank West, Rob Riggle plays the hero of the first game much like what Frank West became after Dead Rising: a pompous asshole. While relegated to showing up sporatically in an ongoing interview segment for a local news channel, Riggle plays it up by casually swearing and ridiculing his interviewer, while at the same time shamelessly plugging his book. He also stops to give his honest advice to the viewers if they were being attacked by zombies. As for our main protagonists, Metcalfe does a nice job as Chase, as does Keegan Connor Tracy as Chase’s partner, Jordan. Meghan Ory kicks zombie ass as Crystal O’Rourke with Virginia Madsen, though Madsen does play into the oblivious mom cliche a little as Maggie. She vindicates herself somewhat by swinging a mean machete and maglite. Aleks Paunovic is a hoot as the main biker protagonist, Logan. Dude looked like he was sincerely having fun with the role. Harley Morenstein. Epic Meal Time. ‘Nuff said.
Ultimately however, as the film progresses, things go sour for Dead Rising: Watchtower. For one, this film has no business clocking in at two hours. With Dawn Of The Dead‘s various cuts, I can understand since you have character development, social commentary and the like. In Dead Rising, not so much. Despite the performances, the characters are largely one-note and don’t have much in the development department. What really burns is that the one character that does have a bit of development (and interest) to it, Frank West, is largely kept on the sidelines. Even then, you’d have to be a fan of the videogame series to have that established development, since casual viewers won’t have that. Shoehorning in dramatic scenes into a film that’s already juggling the lopsided goofiness and over-the-top horror of the games doesn’t help, either. Ultimately, the film follows the videogames too closely, in that elements of the videogame just don’t translate as well to film. The one-note characters aside, the weapon crafting here comes off as goofy, the government cover-up subplot is tired, and ultimately, you’d just rather be playing the games rather than watching a live-action playthrough.
If it sounds like I was disappointed by Dead Rising: Watchtower, you’d be mostly correct. Going into this, I knew that the film would already have people pointing out how certain elements have been done before in zombie films, and that I get. The games were based on George A. Romero’s classic, after all. And I did enjoy some of the camerawork and Riggle as Frank West. But Dead Rising is another case of an adaptation adhering so closely to the source material that diehard fans of the videogames would be the only real audience. Even then, there’s a feeling of being cheated. Would it have been a blast to have seen Frank West being a jerk while saving the city? Definitely. Did the film ultimately serve as a consolation? Somewhat. Bottom line, this film is for the fans, but like those who aren’t clued into the videogames, the overall “been there, done that” feeling will have everyone wanting something more.