An Asian, A Racist White Guy, and a Mexican Zombie Walk Into A Bar
Amigo Undead is a recent entry in the carousel of zombie comedies to follow in the footsteps of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. While it would be unfair to catagorize all of these follow-ups as “clones”, there’s no denying a steady increase in the volume of “zomedies” being released, most of which will feature a blurb comparing it to one of those 2 films somewhere on its poster or cover art. Unlike those movies, the characters of Amigo Undead are forced to deal with only one zombie. The film, however, is forced to deal with trying to find its place in a growing sea of “been there”.
Meet Kevin Ostrowski (Randall Park – The Interview, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat), an introverted Asian financial adviser working at a small local bank. It’s a safe yet mundane existence with little excitement and shovel loads of monotony. Kevin sheepishly declines joining his co-workers for drinks after work in exchange for a lonely weekend of TV dinners, reading, and video games. And yes, I did say “Asian”. He was adopted. This will be mentioned often.
Kevin receives a call from his estranged brother, Norm (Steve Agee – TV’s The Sarah Silverman Program). The brothers drifted apart after the tragic auto accident that claimed their parents years earlier. Norm has called to break his “horrible news” to his baby brother… Norm has diabetes. Norm conveys the news like a death sentence. As he says, “these things can go either way” for people in his condition. Norm invites Kevin to come spend the weekend with him at his new place, as well as to celebrate Norm’s 40th birthday. Kevin reluctantly agrees, but still has to endure his older brother’s sophomoric jokes throughout the conversation, as well as Norm’s farting into the phone.
Begrudgingly, Kevin drives out to some middle-of-nowhere place deep in the Southwest called “Jackrabbit Hills” to find his brother. After stopping to ask directions from a Native American father and daughter running a roadside stand specializing in dreamcatchers, Kevin finds Norm and 2 of his friends at an empty plot of land. And I mean empty. No house. No trailer. All that stands is a small tent that Norm has set up.
As mentioned, Norm has brought a few of his “friends” along for the weekend. There’s Ian (comedian Josh Fadem), a simpleton liquor store employee who is also Norm’s drug dealer. Ian only seems to be around to constantly remind the viewer that he’s “none too bright” with his clueless responses to urgent situations. This schtick gets stale quite quickly, mostly because Ian’s “remarks” just aren’t that funny. I found “Ian” to not only be the least interesting character, but also the most annoying.
The other friend is Wayne (Michael McCafferty), a “Proud to be White” t-shirt wearing, pistol packing mailman. Wayne will naturally serve as yet another antagonist for Kevin on this trip, as well as the catalyst for the majority of the events to follow.
With no real structure to occupy, Norm’s plan is to do nothing more than sit in the middle of the desert for the next 2 days, drinking beers and bullshitting. He also hopes to reacquaint with his brother, an idea that Kevin is not overly keen on. As the two “re-connect”, a heavy-set Mexican man walks into their camp and proceeds to hand out hot dogs. Norm introduces him as Jovan, another friend, as well as his partner in a construction company for which they own a fancy truck, but otherwise doesn’t exist.
Jovan leads the group a short distance into the desert to a small frontier town that he has built out of scrap pieces of wood. Before even taking a moment to truly appreciate Jovan’s achievement, the brothers set to arguing. The situation gets heated. Enough so that they fail to notice Jovan choking to death on one of his own hot dogs a few feet from where they stand.
Despite some discussion contrary, Kevin convinces the other men that they should take the body to a hospital and call off the weekend. This would be a veiled blessing for Kevin as it would also provide an opportunity to leave his brother behind for good. However, as they attempt to move the body, Wayne’s gun drops to the ground. The weapon discharges, firing a round into Jovan’s already dead chest. Fearing that the police may think that they’ve committed a murder, Wayne coerces Norm into burying Jovan on the desert property. This only furthers the burgeoning tension between Kevin and Norm, as well as between Kevin and Wayne. They eventually bury Jovan in a very shallow grave and return to camp.
Ian sees someone walking around the camp and the group splits up to investigate. Norm & Kevin find an old Native American painting on the side of a rock wall. The painting prominently displays an image of a devil’s head. Norm’s immediate reaction is to question if they have just buried Jovan in an ancient burial from which he will return to kill them. This is just the beginning of how self-aware the film will soon become.
As predicted, Jovan does return as a zombie-like demon. Unlike the zombies in most films, this zombie is only concerned with targeting one victim. In this case, Norm. That said, he’ll still gladly kill anyone that gets in his way.
Any idea of building suspense is quickly discarded as Jovan makes his return mere moments after the discovery of the painting. Suspense and tension are not what Amigo Undead is about. Hell, the opening scene takes place near the end of the movie, so you’re informed that the brothers have remained safe up to that point.
This is foremost a comedy, one that doesn’t necessarily base its humor in the context of the situation. Amigo Undead is more concerned with making references to the 1990’s, as well as the occasional crude joke. Amigo Undead roots itself in the “Odd Couple” formula of situational comedy. Kevin is very much the “Felix” to Norm’s “Oscar”. However, when that approach only goes so far, the film chooses to rely on references to Pogs, The Terminator, and Home Alone. Norm even attempts to stop the zombified Jovan by relying on the same traps Kevin McCallister used in his own misadventures, only to less effective results, mechanically and comically.
Jovan receives significant damage over the course of the film, and make-up effects are capably handled and never seem excessive. There are a few gore scenes, but not near the amount found in the average zombie flick. Gorehounds will probably be disappointed by this, but as I said earlier, this is primarily a comedy.
Amigo Undead was written by George Edelman & Ryan Nagata. Edelman produced, while Nagata directed. I definitely wouldn’t call Amigo Undead a “bad” movie. It’s just not particularly “great” at either of the genres it tries to belong to. There just isn’t enough here to whet the appetite of blood-thirsty zombie fanatics. As for it being a comedy, I just didn’t find it all that funny, although the first half provided a few chuckles. The movie just felt too self-aware for me, banking on its cache of nostaglic references and horror fan “in-jokes”.
I found Amigo Undead on Showtime On-Demand while fumbling through the channels one night. What I could not find was a home video release. It is available on Amazon Prime, and possible on iTunes. I’m too lazy to check on that one.