When future generations look back on us and our cultural obsessions, they’ll have many questions. Why so many TV shows about cakes? How did Charlie Sheen keep getting work? And what was the deal with our endless fascination with zombies? Of course, this assumes that these future generations aren’t eaten by zombies before they get a chance to ask these questions, and at this point, we probably shouldn’t count on that. In a day and age when the CDC is issuing pamphlets on how best to prepare for the coming zombie apocalypse, we simply can’t take anything for granted.

Actually, there is still one thing we can count on, and that’s the fact that our friends at The Asylum will cash in on any trend, as long as they can figure out a way to do it on the cheap. The Asylum is, of course, the production company best known for its “mockbusters,” those cut-rate knockoffs designed to fool sleepy Target shoppers into thinking Transmorphers features $200 million in special effects and the possibility of seeing Shia LaBeouf stomped by a giant robot. More recently they’ve been teaming up with SyFy for such Saturday night specials as Battle of Los Angeles and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. Tonight, just in time for Halloween—and, no doubt coincidentally, less than two weeks after the season premiere of The Walking Dead—here’s the imaginatively-titled Zombie Apocalypse.

This two-hour TV-movie wastes little time in setting up the scenario. Within 90 seconds we’ve been informed that the VM2 virus was first spotted in Paris, before spreading to the rest of Europe, Asia, and finally the United States. We don’t learn too much about the virus, but really, what do we need to know besides the fact that it turns people into flesh-eating zombies? The U.S. military destroyed bridges leading out of cities and detonated EMPs in the atmosphere to prevent the plague spreading by vehicle, but their efforts were too little, too late. Six months later only a handful of survivors remain, traveling the country in ragtag groups. Ragtag groups in which the black guys are killed first. And also second.

We follow one band of survivors as they attempt to make their way to Catalina Island, rumored to be a safe haven from the living dead. This group consists of Ving Rhames, who has plenty of experience doing battle with zombies in the remakes of both Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, and a handful of other actors vaguely familiar from various TV shows. I don’t really care about any of them, but it is a little sad to see Rhames reduced to this. He’s set to appear in The Asylum’s upcoming 2 Headed Shark, so I guess he’s made his peace with his current position on the Hollywood food chain. I bet he wishes he’d never given that Golden Globe to Jack Lemmon, though. He’s never getting another one now.

Anyway, Zombie Apocalypse turns out to be a lackluster addition to the Asylum library of cheap, ridiculous nonsense. For one thing, it never takes a side on the eternal debate of slow zombies vs. fast zombies. It has both shamblers and runners. Now, I ask you, how does that happen? Are there variant strains of the VM2 virus? We need a scientist to show up and explain this stuff, but it never happens. Instead, our ragged band of survivors make their way from sporting goods store to high school gymnasium to downtown Los Angeles, using various tools and weapons to make zombie heads explode along the way. Most of the gore is computer-generated in that bottom shelf video-toaster style that has become The Asylum’s trademark. For most of its running time, though, Zombie Apocalypse is just a dull riff on The Walking Dead, without any of the cheesy-campy howlers that make this sort of thing bearable when you’re paralyzed and can’t get off the couch. That changes at the very end, when a pair of zombie tigers attack our heroes just when they think they’ve reached safety. It wasn’t explained, but I like to think the tigers had made it all the way from the Mirage in Las Vegas, and that zombie versions of Sigfried and Roy weren’t far behind. But maybe that will have to wait for the sequel.

Stray observations:

  • In what passes for a sly homage to The Walking Dead, one of the survivors mentions a former member of their group named Kirkman, who met an unspecified awful fate. I’m sure Robert Kirkman takes it as a compliment.
  • Surely by now there must be extras who specialize in zombies. I mean, there’s got to be enough work to sustain them. “You want to see my zombie shimmy? Or do you want fast and furious? I can do fast and furious!”
  • Whenever the group enters a building, somebody calls out, “Are there any humans in here?” Is it really necessary to specify humans? How would a zombie answer that question?
  • I didn’t really understand why sometimes the plumes of blood shooting from zombie heads were blue or purple. I’m sure there was a good reason.
  • “Are you trying to charm me with poetry during the zombie apocalypse?”
  • Coming in November on SyFy: Rage of the Yeti! OK, now I’m excited.

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