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Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

THE ZOMBIES are a lot faster. The effects are more elaborate (though the graphic gore quotient is pretty much the same). Instead of stupid bikers, it's got stupid security guards. And the social satire takes a backseat to the emotionally fraught survival struggle.

So, all in all, this new version of ``Dawn of the Dead'' reflects our times about as well as George Romero's 1978 horror classic did its own. Rather than creating a weird little consumer utopia inside a barricaded shopping mall while the world outside succumbs to a plague of zomboid cannibalism, the living survivors can barely keep from killing one another this time around. The psychological violence among them is as brutal as the deads' brainless urge to attack. It's horror entertainment for the terrorism era.

Directed by an English commercial maker, Zack Snyder, who employs all the tricks of the modern TV trade, this will be considered by some a travesty of Romero's well-regarded sequel to his low-budget masterpiece ``Night of the Living Dead.'' But let's be honest here. The original ``Dawn'' went on way too long, and its central shopping = brain dead joke, while a brilliant metaphor, was beaten to, well, death.

Although it has some good, dark humor (screenwriter James Gunn used to churn out tongue-in-cheek horror scripts for the Troma exploitation film outfit), the new ``Dawn'' is, for the most part, urgently serious. It also boasts a much higher level of acting than the genre norm, or that in Romero's film for that matter. Standouts include Canadian indie princess Sarah Polley as a plucky nurse, Ving Rhames' intimidating, dependable cop, Jake Weber as a lifelong loser who rises to the awful occasion, Mekhi Phifer's conscience-stricken criminal/father-to-be, and Michael Kelly as one of those creep guards who may or may not have a hero lurking inside him.

There are more silly horror movie conventions in the remake but also some clever new gross-out gags. Snyder and company even top the last resurrection of a '70s horror classic, ``The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,'' at its own game.

A final warning: Do not leave the theater before the closing credits.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670


DAWN OF THE DEAD - Three stars

(R: violence, sex, nudity, language, children in jeopardy)

Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer.

Director: Zack Snyder.

Running time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Playing: Citywide.

In a nutshell: Adrenalized remake of the mall zombies classic. Not as smart as George Romero's original but not dumb either - and certainly more exciting.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 19, 2004

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