As a movie, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” sounds like the kind of thing that’s going to be all downhill after the title, like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” was. (Not coincidentally, both films were based on books by the same person, Seth Grahame-Smith.) Can a parodic mashup of Jane Austen and George Romero sustain itself for the length of a feature? Or will this be like those stories in The Onion that should have been left as standalone headlines?
“P&P&Z” does sustain itself, more or less, with the tone of a rollicking adventure movie — more “Pirates of the Caribbean” than “The Walking Dead” or “Sense and Sensibility.” This reluctance to commit to either genre, either in earnest or as parody, is a letdown for those of us hoping for a clever deconstruction of one or both of them, but I suppose it’s better than if the film had tried to take on such a task and had failed. Low risk, low reward — but hey, low disappointment.
The basic story is mostly faithful to Austen’s version, with headstrong 19th-century girl Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) being both offended by and attracted to Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) — Colonel Darcy, actually, a military man who’s expert at finding and killing zombies. After Elizabeth sets the mood with a variation of Austen’s opening line (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brain must be in want of more brains”), a different narrator explains the alternate-history scenario, where England is constantly at war with zombies in much the same way that nations have struggled against plague, influenza, or communism.
Like most girls of good breeding, Elizabeth and her sisters are trained in martial arts, leading to amusing situations like sparring with each other while discussing men, using dialogue that may well have been taken straight from Austen. This and other juxtapositions (like the young ladies wearing knives discreetly hidden under their corsets and bodices) serve to bridge the gap between period drama and zombie flick. The novelty soon wears off, but thankfully, the film doesn’t keep trying to go back to that well. Instead, the romance continues, and a twist is introduced: George Wickham (Jack Huston), an acquaintance of Mr. Darcy’s who may also vie for Elizabeth’s affections, has discovered a possible solution to the zombie problem.
The movie was adapted and directed by Burr Steers, whose darkly humorous indie debut “Igby Goes Down” was followed by the mundane, mainstream pictures “17 Again” and “Charlie St. Cloud.” “P&P&Z” falls somewhere between those points, slickly produced like a big-studio CGI extravaganza, but also a wee bit off-kilter. Only a bit, though. It isn’t subversive or satirical, but it is good fun with broad appeal.
B- (1 hr., 47 min.; )