Diary of the Dead & r & & r & by BEN KROMER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & iary of the Dead is George A. Romero's fifth zombie movie, this one about student filmmakers chronicling the original outbreak in what was once Blair Witch Project style but should now be called Cloverfield style. Earlier, in his Dawn of the Dead commentary, Romero gave filmmakers perhaps the worst advice possible -- advice that the students in his movie seem to have taken to heart. In effect, he said that the subtext, the message, of a movie is more important than its actual story or plot. If there's a better, simpler recipe for making a pretentious and crappy film, I have yet to hear it.

Diary, then, is the embodiment of Romero's dubious credo, though maybe its message isn't a subtext when it's delivered by characters speaking directly into the camera or narrating. The message is a kind of lengthy rumination on "Why, oh why, do we slow down to look at car wrecks?" (The actual reason is that there are usually police around, but that doesn't stop people from acting like it's a deep query into human nature.) The point is exaggerated by the fact that the main filmmaker is an imbecile. I don't question that if you have a camera handy during a zombie attack, it would be interesting enough to record, but when someone holds a camera in Diary they completely forget that they have a free hand. "Jason! A little help here?!" asks a girl being menaced by a zombie that's dressed up as a mummy. "I'm shooting!" replies Jason the idiot film student. When he gives his camera to another guy he tells him, "Here! See if you can resist!" This material was covered years ago by the low(er)-budget, independent(er) zombie flick Feeding the Masses. Which means that Diary fails not only on the (supposedly all-important) thematic level -- it's not even original.

The gore is good, though brief (no lengthy abdominal Last Suppers here). But there is some eyeball-popping, and a scythe-wielding Amish farmer who's also the best character. Probably because he's a mute. (Rated R)

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