© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arnold Schwarzenegger Gets Serious About Fatherhood And Zombies

Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger in <em>Maggie</em>.
Tracy Bennett
Roadside Attractions
Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie.

No parent should have to watch his child grow up to be a flesh-eating zombie. But if any dad ever had the stuff for the task, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Maggie, the action-movie heavyweight and former governor of California plays Wade, a plaid-shirted farmer from Middle America facing a viral plague that's infected his teenage daughter along with a good chunk of the country's population.

Now, Maggie is clammy but still human; in a few weeks, she'll start to "turn" like the rest of them. Her arm wound festers and eats away chunks of her skin, so that when a doctor has to take a sample, all he needs is a pair of tweezers to peel some away. "Don't pick at that," Wade warns his daughter. Good advice.

Maggie is infected from the film's outset, to the point where anyone who's seen 10 seconds of a George A. Romero film on TV would take one look at her and reach for the shotgun. But Dad's too good-hearted for that, so he pulls some strings with local law enforcement to keep her in his custody. When she worsens, as she's guaranteed to do, the government is supposed to quarantine her, but bad things happen to folks there.

There are three options, the doctor tells Wade. The first two are medically sanctioned. Ever the optimist, Wade responds, "What's Option 3?" We know what Option 3 is, but the film, like Wade, has to wait as long as possible to get to it.

Maggie is played by Abigail Breslin, in jet-black hair and glassy eyes that make her look a little like the girl from The Ringwith a mildly better disposition. Breslin has some experience in the undead department — she helped turn post-plague America into a theme park in the endlessly amusing Zombieland. Schwarzenegger's own undead-fighting resume is a little paltry, by comparison, but he's taken on space mutants and Sinbad, so this seems like a doable step for him. The fact that he hardly kills anyone, including zombies, qualifies as restraint for Conan the Barbarian. This may be why the film is steadfast in insisting that it's a drama, not a cheesy B-movie.

In fact, things are quite glum under director Henry Hobson, a credits designer making his feature-film-making debut. He cloaks the world's most famous physique in silhouettes and darkness, surrounding him with a washed-out landscape where the color palette matches Maggie's skin. Wade is a cipher without a clear motivator for his actions beyond blind love and stupidity, and his wife (Joely Richardson) and other, much blonder kids (who disappear pretty quickly) are going for some kind of Norman Rockwell At The Apocalypse vibe. So that leaves Maggie herself to face the fact that the tasty food she's smelling just might be her parents. Breslin is more than up to this task; though the dialogue doesn't give her much to work with, she milks her dawning looks of horror at what she's become.

John Scott 3's (for that is his name, "John Scott 3") script for Maggie spent some time on the Hollywood Black List of best unproduced screenplays, and casting Schwarzenegger is such an eyebrow-raising choice that the film seemed destined to be something different. So the fact that it emerges as a sleepy, half-formed thing is disappointing: too tame for Walking Dead fans; too slight to be taken seriously as character-based drama. Next month will see the release of a very different film, the kooky teen comedy Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, with a much more engaging depiction of a teen girl struggling with her mortality. Option 3 can wait a little longer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.