As bluntly unimaginative as its title, Cockneys Vs. Zombies pits some London East Enders against hordes of the undead, who roam the earth after being set free from a tomb sealed by King Charles II in 1666. Get it? 666, the Mark of the Beast? That’s about as funny as Matthias Hoene’s film gets, though it certainly tries to muster humor out of the bountiful profanity spewing from the mouth of Ray (Alan Ford), a still-spry retiree whose elder-care home is about to be demolished so new luxury apartments can be built. Ray is a tough guy whose every other word has four letters and begins with “f,” and he lets the invectives fly once he and his friends are attacked by zombies unleashed by the same construction workers responsible for the impending destruction of his beloved residence.
Before Ray and his band of merry companions are introduced, however, Hoene focuses on Ray’s grandsons Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway), two wisecracking twentysomethings endeavoring to rob a bank with the help of their own kooky crew, including their cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan) and headbutt-loving psychopath Mental Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas). The reasons for this heist are left intentionally opaque at the outset, providing a welcome modicum of mystery, even as the director dully situates his material in familiar territory. On multiple occasions during early conversations, Hoene cuts away to flashback glimpses of the action being discussed so he can deliver quick-hit background on his protagonists—a device that, when coupled with his London crime setting, strongly recalls Guy Ritchie’s early work.
But Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead soon proves to be Cockneys Vs. Zombies’ true template. Once Terry, Andy, and company nab their loot—which turns out to be the construction company’s entire profits and payroll—they end up in a chaotic urban wasteland overrun by the living dead, and set about navigating the zombie-infested streets in order to save their grandfather. Their rescue operation is just an extension of their initial goal of using the stolen money to help save the retirement home. Sadly, any suggestion that the story wants to address society’s callous treatment of senior citizens—and the nobility of younger generations looking out for their elders—are mere put-ons, aimed only at gussying up traditional jokey-gory zombie decapitations and dismemberments. When Ray says, “We’re old-age pensioners—we gotta take care of ourselves!” it isn’t a rallying cry against institutionalized discrimination and neglect so much as a rebel yell to establish these senior citizens as still capable of being gun-wielding badasses.
They are capable, though, especially during a finale that, like the recent RED 2, mistakenly assumes that the sight of people aged 50 and up firing guns is in and of itself the height of awesome. That’s in keeping with the general wrongheadedness of the film, which, when not making lame jokes—zombie football hooligans still want to fight!—doesn’t follow its own story logic: While the young protagonists immediately identify the ghouls as zombies, some still don’t realize that headshots are the only means of killing them. Technical proficiency notwithstanding, such basic storytelling lapses doom Cockneys Vs. Zombies to the realm of the second-rate and sloppy, all the way to a finale so abrupt and inconclusive, it’s as if the filmmakers themselves suddenly grew weary of their own undead endeavor.