APRIL 18, 2010
One of the first videos I edited for Bloody Disgusting was a set visit for the film Dead Air, where Mr. Disgusting talked to director Corbin Bernsen and stars Bill Moseley and Patricia Tallman. I sort of forgot about the movie after that (this would be like spring of 2007), and thus was surprised to see it on cable, as I wasn’t even aware that it had hit DVD yet (my Blockbuster really sucks when it comes to carrying new DTV horror films). Supposedly it’s been completed since 2007 (and was originally destined for a theatrical release that year), so I’m not sure why it’s taken so long to be released, but it turns out to be a crippling decision.
Why? Because we already have Pontypool doing pretty much the same thing, only better. Even if I had seen Dead Air first, I would have liked Pontypool more, because it simply sticks to its own guns in a far more successful way. The main problem with Dead Air is that Bernsen and screenwriter Kenny Yakkel are either too impatient or too dim to actually keep the film confined to the radio station. When you have a siege movie, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there, but once you are, you can’t leave! Look at Die Hard - no one leaves once they arrive. We go to the outside world to meet Al Powell, buying his Twinkies, but once he arrives on the scene he doesn’t leave the premises (thanks to John McClane’s gift from above), which makes us feel like he's trapped there as well. But here, not only do we keep cutting away to the terrorists who released the toxin in the first place, but we have a lengthy scene where Moseley’s co-host goes out into the city on a motorcycle and engages in some fairly week escape scenes, only to eventually turn and attack the people he was supposed to be rescuing.
Worse, we get a “the next morning” scene where Moseley ENDLESSLY walks around his house looking for his family. Again, think of Die Hard - when the hero leaves the building, the movie is over. The gimmick of this movie was the radio station - without it it’s just a low budget, generic zombie film, and anytime we leave the station we are reminded of it. How great would the scene of the guy leaving have been if the entire thing had just played out with his voiceover, like an old-fashioned radio show but with better foley work? Nope, we see it, and it’s pretty lame - the zombies look like a bunch of angry punk kids, the stunt work is dull, and Bernsen and DP Eric Petersen can’t find even a moment of excitement or suspense in the proceedings (nor can they in any of the radio scenes - Bernsen’s directorial style can best be described as Kevin Smith-esque). At least if we just watched Moseley’s face the whole time (or better, Tallman’s - for a 50+ year old woman she’s still a knockout), we could have imagined something cool.
The ending also has a horribly executed “sum up” voiceover montage with an entire movie’s worth of ideas and revelations compressed into about 2 minutes, going by so fast that I couldn’t even follow all of it. Why even bother with the “we’re trapped in a radio station and we don’t know what’s going on” concept if you can’t stick with it? I don’t give a shit how the zombies (sigh, INFECTED) got that way, or why it was done, or what happened after. Again, this sort of stuff just turns it into yet another zombie movie, as if we haven’t had about 94 of those.
One thing I DID like was that Bernsen recruited a few of his LA Law buddies for cameos. Susan Ruttan plays one of the employees at the radio station, and spends half of her screen time as a crazed infected, throwing people around and then getting killed. And Larry Drake (’s voice) probably has the best scene of the movie, as he calls in to Moseley’s show and we listen to his demise. No Alan Rachins though, or whoever that broad was that fell down the elevator shaft (so awesome).
Moseley is also quite good. I racked my brain and couldn’t think of the last time I saw him playing a significant non-villain role, if ever, and he acquits himself nicely. You know, the hitchhiker standins for Chainsaws 3 and 4 (Viggo Mortensen and Matthew McConaughey) went on to have big A list careers, it’s a shame Bill has, for the most part, been relegated to DTV junk like this, with only a few showy villain roles hitting the mainstream (i.e. Devil’s Rejects). He’s a solid character actor with a lousy agent, I guess. And really, the acting (his co-host is great too, and Tallman does as much as she can with a thankless, underwritten role - there’s a great bit with a plant that’s probably the best non-radio call moment in the entire movie) is about the only thing this movie has going for it, which just makes Moseley’s performance all the more appreciated.
Sadly, it also keeps the Pontypool similarities in mind, as that film’s radio host was ALSO played by an underrated actor who is mostly stuck playing villains in low budget movies (Stephen McHattie). Now, to be fair, Dead Air was shot before Pontypool - but Pontypool was based on Anthony Burgess' book that was released in 1998. Whether Yakkel read it prior to writing his film, no one knows but him, but like Repo/Repo Men, I would like to think it’s just a coincidence that two zombie/radio station movies were produced around the same time, even if one was based on an existing (but obscure) property. Ultimately, Dead Air’s biggest issue isn’t that it’s “been done”, it’s that it’s been done better.
What say you?