'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' lacks bite and levity

Lily James (center) and Bella Heathcote (left) in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
3 out of 5 Stars
Burr Steers
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston
Genre: Action, Horror, Romance
Rated: PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Recommended To:Fans of the novel with minimal expectations.

Synopsis: The Bennet sisters are skilled zombie killers; when it comes to romance they have a thing or two to learn.

Review: Seth Grahame-Smith's reworking of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" as a period zombie novel was a surprisingly fun read that screamed out for a cinematic adaptation. So when Natalie Portman picked up the film rights to the film I had visions of Portman teaming with the likes of Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich. Sadly it took years for the project to come together and my excitement faded as zombies became the new vampires. Instead of Portman et al. we have the perfectly acceptable Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet, Bella Heathcote as Jane Bennet and Suki Waterhouse as Kitty Bennet with Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy, Douglas Booth as Mr. Bingley, Lena Headey as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Matt Smith as Parson Collins. It's a strong cast, no complaints there.

Written and directed by Burr Steers ("17 Again"), "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" takes itself ever so seriously. This is somewhat problematic. Austen's novels are more difficult to adapt than you might think. They aren't just silly love stories or dry period dramas; they have a comedic undertone and a biting wit (Whit Stillman's "Love & Friendship" is a perfect example of how to find the humor in Austen's prose). Steers's screenplay downplays the boy crazy aspects of the younger Bennet sisters to give as much time to Elizabeth and Jane as possible. It's an understandable decision, but the strength of Austen's text is her ability to create a sense of the customs of the time through the actions of her characters. The silly antics of the younger Bennet sisters are essential. They are ridiculous in the original novel and even more so in Grahame-Smith's rewrite. To really work, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" needs to occasionally be fun.

Another misstep from Steers is the way he shot the fight choreography. I understand that he was limited by the studio's desire to make a PG-13 film and that requires him to imply, rather than show, the violence. While reading the novel I envisioned the action to be far more elegant along the lines of a classic Hong Kong wuxia film (like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or "The Grandmaster") where there is a graceful style, rather than the bludgeoning technique that Steers uses. The Bennet girls were trained in the Chinese martial arts, a visual style influenced by Asian cinema would have been more effective.

I don't think that "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is as big of a mess as some reviews have suggested. It could have been better; it could have been much worse.

Follow Ryan on Twitter for entertainment and movie news: @ryanMpainter

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