Monday 27 August 2012

(East) End of Days: "Cockneys vs. Zombies"

Cheeky, lively, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin DVD fodder Cockneys vs. Zombies opens with hard-hatted flunkies of heartless developers, keen to turn the entire East End into "luxury" apartment blocks, uncovering a 17th century crypt and inadvertently disturbing the undead plague victims concealed there. Standing between them are a bumbling gang of bank robbers headed by fraternal geezers Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway, and extending to their cousin Michelle Ryan (kicking ass in a hi-vis jacket), local nutcase Ashley Thomas (who, in a key plot point, is revealed to have a steel plate in his head) and useless lump Jack Doolan (surely destined/doomed to play Perry Benson's son in something sooner or later). Meanwhile, a nearby old folks' home threatened with closure by the same developers is overrun with arrivals even less sentient than usual, inspiring the residents to stage their own resistance, spearheaded by old trooper Alan Ford, with vital contributions from rhyming-slang nut Dudley Sutton, nice Honor Blackman, naughty Georgina Hale, and Richard Briers - yes, Richard Briers! - as a doddering perv who winds up with a submachine gun gaffertaped to the bars of his Zimmer frame.

Written by James Moran and Lucas Roche and directed by Matthias Hoene, this isn't quite as smart as Shaun of the Dead, spitballing ideas - single mother zombies! zombie football hooligans! - rather than constructing or, really, subverting a particular mythology, and running out of novel ways to keep the shufflers at bay at a precariously early stage. What saves and elevates it is sheer likability, allowing the oldtimers to play action heroes with a good deal more wit and poignancy than the cast of The Expendables 2 managed between them, and handing the young performers, whose presence has oft been squandered at this level of filmmaking, fun character and comedy beats to work with: as his participation in the underrated Steve Coogan sitcom Saxondale suggested, Hardiker has exceptional comic timing, and Georgia King (as an unflappable customer the robbers take hostage) runs him close. A modest apocalypse, then, yet one that makes fresh, intuitive use of its locations and gives very good splatter; other passing highlights include the year's funniest throwaway flashback (suggesting a possible spin-off entitled Alan Ford: Nazi Hunter; I, for one, would watch it) and - inevitably - a Chas 'n' Dave theme song, "Head to Head (With the Undead)", which is "Snooker Loopy" only, y'know, with ZOMBIES.

Cockneys vs. Zombies opens nationwide from Friday, ahead of its DVD release on October 22.

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