Studio: Phase 4 Films
Director: James Ryan Gary
Writer: James Ryan Gary, Donald Wells
Producer: Paul Streiner
Stars: Michael Sharpe, Jenny Gulley, Chris Walters, Tim Holt, Kevin Johnson, David G. Holland, Allison Flanigan, Chad Goudy, Dedan Donovan, Valerie Bobo, Samuel Whisnant, Michael Mike, Michael Berry, Michael Ruff, Patrick G. Keenan
A western saloon is besieged by a horde of reanimated corpses, and only a mysterious outlaw can save the townspeople.
No levelheaded genre movie fan goes into a horror western with no-name actors made for $5,000, according to IMDB, without expecting it to have its fair share of flaws. Except “Cowboys vs. Zombies” has enough of them to fill more than a dozen low-budget indies virtually assured to disappear from the memory banks.
The first thing you notice about “Cowboys vs. Zombies” is that the first “cowboy” to appear onscreen wears a store-bought plaid shirt with plastic buttons, which does not exactly sell a Wild West fantasy. Okay, you think. This isn’t the type of production that has the resources to craft its own costumes or make every detail period perfect. I can let an off-the-rack shirt slide. Wait, is he wearing a graphic tee underneath his button-down, too?
Once that mysterious stranger makes it into the frontier town where the story takes place, there are then occasional glimpses of zippered jackets, Christmas light strings, and even a rusted truck in front of the saloon. Benefit of the doubt might excuse the anachronisms as an intentional fusion of cowboy chic meets contemporary tech. Better sense suggests that the movie simply did not want the hassle of framing out light poles and telephone wires.
Instead of a truly unique feeling of hybrid styles, a la “Blade Runner” or the “Fallout” video games, “Cowboys vs. Zombies” has an “I can’t be bothered” attitude with regard to addressing modern objects creeping into the picture. These inclusions are so random that they read as lazy oversights and as big distractions.
“Cowboys vs. Zombies” at least features the cowboys and the zombies promised by the title. It’s what the movie doesn’t have that makes it a terrible choice for 90 minutes of what is supposed to be entertainment.
“Cowboys vs. Zombies” does not have a compelling hero. Because he drinks milk rather than whiskey, apparently the main character is a good guy. Aside from that dubious trait, the rest of his characterization consists of the lead actor doing a Christian Bale Batman impersonation with his dialogue delivery.
The script later reveals that the entire reason this frontier town is beset by zombies is because their mysterious hero refused an order to kill a murdering rapist out of a principle to be defiant. So a town of innocents is needlessly slaughtered in order for this scumbag to stay alive? Heroic indeed. (SPOILER ALERT!) The “hero” ends up shooting the rapist in the end anyway, ensuring that the whole motivation behind the story is rendered completely purposeless.
“Cowboys vs. Zombies” does not have a basic understanding of how to develop characters. When an “aw shucks” nice guy succumbs to a zombie bite, he says his last words, “I love you. I always have” to the woman cradling his head. How touching. It might have been even more so if the two of them had any interaction at all with one another anywhere before that point. The only one-on-one that same man had with anyone was a discussion about rain on the way with a goon on the saloon porch. An “Introduction to Screenwriting” professor would have written on the script in large red text: “how about changing that to a scene with the woman he loves instead, you know, so that there is actually some emotion in their relationship?”
“Cowboys vs. Zombies” does not have well-managed plotting. The movie is only 83 minutes long, and the first 30 are a belabored setup of the murdering rapist intimidating the patrons of a saloon before the hero finally stands up and does something. The supporting cast of these forgettable barflies is little more than an assembly of gawkers, used primarily for gape-mouthed reaction shots during conflicts that take place between people more important to the story, or the loose frame that constitutes one.
“Cowboys vs. Zombies” does not have engaging action sequences. What passes for action is a continuously circling loop of aimless zombie slaughter, lit so poorly that the only thing to be seen clearly is the horrendous digital blood. The scenery is clouded by dust from the street, smoke from the guns, and fog from the environment. But the computer-animated blood bursts are a rich red, drawing as much attention to themselves as an Adam West “Kapow!” flashing across the screen.
Besides cowboys and zombies, what does “Cowboys vs. Zombies” have? A copyright date of 2010. Four years between completion and release at least points to some smart people shaking their heads when the subject of distribution came up. Yet like a relentless zombie horde pounding on the doors of a Wild West saloon, “Cowboys vs. Zombies” broke down that blockade of reason until it found someone willing to exploit fans of westerns and horror with a lackluster film satisfying neither interest. Good news for the production. Bad news for the rest of us.
Review Score: 20