‘Final Cut’ review: Cannes opens with dull, boring zombie comedy

‘Final Cut’ review: Cannes opens with dull, boring zombie comedy

The last time the Cannes film festival dropped a zombie comedy on its coveted opening night, it was 2019 and the movie – Jim Jarmusch “The Dead Don’t Die” – wasn’t a big shout out, but it served its purpose. He rolled this most highfalutin festival on a pleasant note of macabre cheekiness. As it was only three years ago, you might be wondering why Cannes programmers decided to open this year’s festival — the hallowed 75th edition — with another Absurd and absurd zombie comedy. This too is not a loud cry. In reality, “final cut (Cut!)” is barely a little cry, or a cry at all. It’s kind of a chore. But it was led by Michel Hazanavicius, who directed “The Artist”, and it is a remake of a Japanese zombie comedy, “One Cut of the Dead” (2017), which became cult. So on paper it looks like the perfect anti-prestigious but conscientiously designed.

“Final Cut” is Hazanavicius’ eighth feature, and since he’s considered far from a god in movie circles (“The Artist” is routinely dismissed as a scourge at the Oscars), let me say for the record I enjoyed most of them. I love retro spy comedies “OSS 117” (featuring Jean Dujardin in a performance devious enough in his myopia to compare to Peter Sellers), I found “The Artist” an enchanting bauble (but no, he shouldn’t have won the Oscar), and his biopic about Jean-Luc Godard, “Godard Mon Amour”, was, for me, a fascinating deconstruction of Godard’s bourgeois-misanthropic Marxist narcissism in the late 1960s. But “Final Cut” is Hazanavicius’ first film where the filmmaker seems to barely have control over what he’s doing. It’s a messy, boring movie that repeats the joke over and over again – and guess what, it was barely funny the first time around.

At first, we think we’re watching a sloppy French zombie flick titled “Z,” shot in a weirdly disjointed hand grip on what looks like a messy video, the set of an abandoned factory splattered with colors (teal, orange) so garish at high intensity that the film seems almost elegant in its lack of style. In the movie we’re watching, zombies attack a film crew who filming a low-budget zombie movie (what meta nonsense). This puts this squarely in the genre of “Shaun of the Dead”, “Planet Terror”, and “The Dead Don’t Die”, except that nothing we see is remotely scary or remotely funny.

There’s a lot of random hysteria in your face, though, like when the film’s director abusively explodes at its lead actress (Matilda Lutz). A zombie loses an arm and several characters play ball with the bloody disembodied limb. Heads are split open with axes, and the makeup artist (Bérénice Bejo), for no good reason, turns out to be a master of the military martial art Krav Maga. Oh, and why does everyone have a Japanese name?

It seems there are no rules for this movie. Time and time again, however, it stops to delineate the rules in laborious ways, like the fact that they fire at a site where the Japanese military experimented to bring back the dead, or the murky mythology of the blood brotherhood star. Most of what we see is just garish and obnoxious, like a ponderous zombie spitting yellow vomit in someone’s face. The main actor, painted so blue he looks like an extra from ‘Avatar’, can’t stop talking about zombies and capitalism, which of course is the joke of the now nearly aged George A. Romero. 45 years old.

Suddenly, the end credits roll, and the fact that we’re not going to have to watch this movie anymore is a huge relief. But then, a month earlier, we learn how this masterpiece was made. It is, we find out, a 30-minute internet movie, shot and streamed live and funded by old Mrs. Matsuda (Yoshiko Takehara), who just wanted her screenplay produced. (Hence the Japanese names.)

The director, played by Romain Duris, with his gregarious sex appeal Mick Jagger-meets-Martin Amis, is not the angry megalomaniac we thought; he’s a family man trying to revive his failing career, which is why he’s willing to take on this scuzzy job (and star in the movie). He hires Raphael (Finnegan Oldfield), who plays Bang the blue zombie, because his daughter tells him that Raphael is the next Adam Driver. He also bonds with a producer, Mounir (Lyes Salem), who is a Z-Grade dirty bag, with an amusing resemblance to Tom Jones, that he’s actually the most entertaining person in the film.

And then – are you ready for it? – we have to sit down and watch “Z” one more time. The whole thing. Except now we know the inside story of the horrible movie, and we see that all that happened before was the cast and crew that made up the movie as it went. Which would be a juicy joke if the movie, when we first saw it, looked like anything other than that. But no: what it looked like was…a film that the cast and crew put together as they went along. So there’s no thrill to the joke. Just a confirmation of our worst instincts. “Final Cut,” in its celebration of the creative innocence of terrible cinema, is a film that, on some level, attempts to invoke the spirit of “Ed Wood.” The problem is, it’s like “Ed Wood” made by Ed Wood.

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