Mini-review: 'Life After Beth'
For a romantic zombie comedy, Jeff Baena's "Life After Beth" comes up way short on laughs, scares, action and political insights into our culture. This horror tale is a, if you'll excuse the adjective, lifeless entry in the reanimated corpse romance genre most recently highlighted by the 2013 release "Warm Bodies."
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At least "Life After Beth" (the title being the movie's strongest sample of witty writing) gives the always watchable Aubrey Plaza an opportunity to literally chew the scenery (particularly car seats) as the title character, who mysteriously climbs out of her cemetery plot after being bitten by a poisonous snake.
No one knows why or how Beth returned, but her boyfriend Zach ("Spider-Man 2" baddie Dane DeHaan) is delighted, despite her panicked parents (Chicago's own John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), who wisely want to hide Beth.
Later in the tale, other undead relatives start popping up, creating the potential for a searing sendup of family reunions that never happens. Turns out that zombies groove to smooth jazz, but are we to assume Baena thinks the most dedicated fans of Kenny G and Chuck Mangione are dead?
DeHaan anchors the dramatic edge of "Beth" with melancholy joy, leaving the fun stuff to Plaza, whose slow devolution into a twitching, decomposing lover puts a spin on a Romeo-and-Juliet scene that never comes to fruition.
Anna Kendrick stops in for a thankless quickie supporting role as Zach's potential rebound girlfriend.
Last month, I outlined the five most overused lines of film dialogue, and Baena gives four of them to DeHaan: "Trust me." "It's crazy!" "I can't do this!" "Aren't these awesome?" (They missed, "That's what I'm talkin' about!") It only goes to show that Baena believes in recycling more than Zach's girlfriend.
"Life After Beth" opens at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity, sexual situations and violence. 91 minutes. ★ ½