The Dead One (Brian Cox, 2007)
Most people know Wilder Valderrama as Fez from the long-running sitcom That 70s Show. I always hated it, so I had no clue who he was when I popped this disc into the player. I figure now, though, that there will be a lot of surprised Fez fans who pick up this disc and find Valderrama taking a dramatic, if pathetically cheesy, turn. (Someone else must have thought Valderrama was superhero material; later that year, he also appeared as the title character in Stan Lee's The Condor.)
Valderrama plays Diego de la Muerte, a guy living in East L. A. On his way to a Day of the Dead festival, his car crashes and he is killed. Something supernatural took notice of his costume for the party, though, which included a version of the Aztec God of Death's tattoo painted on him, and he is resurrected as El Muerto, an undead minion of that same God of Death, who's looking for a sacrifice. Of course, that sacrifice turns out to be Diego's lady love, Maria (Colombian actress Angie Cepeda, recently of Love in the Time of Cholera).
Based on Javier Hernandez' comic book El Muerto, The Dead One, a movie that got absolutely no push in Hollywood, gives lie to the idea that anyone could make any sort of novel based on a comic in the mid-nineties and have a hit on their hands. Technically, this should remind you of just about every other comic book movie you've seen in the past few years, and the acting is at about the same level you'd expect from a comic book movie that doesn't have any real ambition to transcend the genre (this is far more The Punisher than it is Sin City). So why wasn't it the subject of yet another major media push by the Hollywood production machine? In a word, script. If something could go wrong with a script, it went wrong here. The pace is inconsistent, the action is next to nonexistent, the characters lack motivation, development, or any other aspect that might make us interested in them. (I stress again that in most cases, however, the actors here did as much as they could with the characters they were given.)
Having now dissected this movie and seemingly found it almost entirely cancerous, I'll say that I didn't hate it nearly as much as the rest of the IMDB crowd seems to have (3.1 stars as I write this, or just over my rating of one and a half stars). The movie is beautifully shot, and Cox (Keepin' It Real) has the superhero-comic-book-movie vibe down extremely well. Had the characters jumped off the screen and the pacing been better, this could have easily been right up there with Iron Man and The Dark Knight, but it just wasn't to be. Still, it's not entirely awful, and if you've seen all the rest of the superhero movies from the last few years (those worth seeing, anyway), give this one a shot. You may find it better than you're expecting. ** ½