There's a good film lurking somewhere within Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead (at Prytania Canal Place from May 14 before premiering on Netflix May 21). The premise of a team of thieves breaking into a casino vault in a quarantined, zombie-filled Las Vegas could make for a nifty thriller, something an in-their-primes George Romero or John Carpenter could have knocked out of the park. However, Army of the Dead is a frustrating film with flashes of potential.
A former special forces soldier (Dave Bautista), struggling as a chef at a diner, is approached by a billionaire casino owner (Hiroyuki Sanada) to steal $200 million from his casino's vault before the U.S. government destroys Vegas with a nuke. The casino owner has already gotten his $200 million back from insurance, so this would be bonus money for all involved.
Like any heist movie, Bautista puts his team together and they take on the impossible job. Bautista's daughter (Ella Purnell) tags along to look for a friend who's gone missing. Inside, some of the zombies are smarter, faster, and more organized than their shambling counterparts.
Army of the Dead has a few moments of genuine imagination. There's a clever scene where the thieves use zombies to set off booby traps on the way to the vault. But the film's tone varies wildly from scene to scene. There are scenes of goofy, snarky dialogue juxtaposed against scenes of children being killed, rape threats, and all sorts of ugliness. A ho-hum subplot involving a military plan to weaponize the zombies is lifted straight from Alien and Aliens without adding anything new or interesting to that idea.
Last but not least, Army of the Dead clocks in at a whopping 148 minutes. Much like the dumber zombies in the film, it rambles on and on and on. A 100-to-110-minute thriller with this plot might have been a good movie. But Army is a case where the trailer is better than the finished product.