MOVIE REVIEW OF “DEAD TRIGGER”

Somethings in life are inevitable.  Death, taxes, and . . . Dolph Lundgren movies. All you need know about Dolph’s latest movie is it stars Dolph. If that isn’t enough, you don’t know the world of fantasy you’re entering. You must be a fan of Dolph to watch Dolph’s movies, much less enjoy them for their miscellaneous qualities.

The best Dolph movies usually star somebody other than Dolph, such as either “Hail, Caesar!” or “Aquaman,” where he isn’t as prominently featured. The standard-issue Dolph movies either topline Dolph or pair him with a prestigious co-star. Usually, Dolph doesn’t deviate from the Dolph formula.

He doesn’t give a performance, as much as impersonate himself. Happily, Dolph is pretty good at playing Dolph. Like Steven Seagal used to be pretty good at playing Steven Seagal, before he packed on the pounds. Or the legendary Chuck Norris before he retired.

A hero of few words, six-foot-four Dolph looms above everybody in “Dead Trigger” (**1/2 OUT OF ****), but a few things about this Dolph movie sets it apart from the typical Dolph derring-do.  First, Dolph has dyed his blonde thatch black again, perhaps as a homage to his title role in the 1989 movie “The Punisher.”  Second, this Dolph movie contains an unusual twist during its final quarter hour that may catch you off-guard.

Although writers Mike Cuff and Scott Windhauser are listed as the co-directors of “Dead Trigger,” they didn’t work side-by-side. Cuff exited the film in a clash over creative differences, and Windhauser of “The Hurricane Heist” not only rewrote the script, but he also took over the helm.

This derivative Dolph thriller evokes memories of the original “Resident Evil” (2002), except Dolph plays Dolph instead of Milla Jovovich. “Resident Evil” was a video game adaptation like “Dead Trigger.”

For the record, Madfinger Games created “Dead Trigger,” a first-person, single-player, zombie-apocalyptic, survival shooter game for iOS and Android back in June of 2012.  Since then Madfinger has followed it up with a sequel cleverly entitled “Dead Trigger 2.” As Dolph movies go, “Dead Trigger” is above-average pabulum.

Like Dolph movies, zombie movies are an acquired taste. You know nobody is going to clench Oscars, much less land nominations. You know the zombies will swarm in hordes. Despite their lurching gaits, these undead demons attack in groups.  Occasionally, they sneak up and  surprise their gullible prey.

First-time scribes Heinz Treschnitzer and Cuff penned this boilerplate chiller.  Four years after a zombie apocalypse devastated Terminal City in 2021 with a virus of unknown origins, the military has established a training program to combat the undead. They recruit video gamers who are crack shots.

Naturally, these millennials must complete a rigorous boot camp. Some die when they tangle with captured, live zombies under simulated conditions. One recruit accidentally blows off his head with a shotgun when a pugnacious zombie frightens him. Led by zombie killing champion Captain Walker (Dolph Lundgren of “Creed 2”), this well-armed unit of young men and women, armed to the teeth with weapons galore, are flown into Terminal City by choppers.

Walker must bring back a scientist, Tara Conlan (Autumn Reeser of “Valley of Bones”), trapped in a laboratory besieged by zombies.  Furthermore, Conlan is the last scientist alive, and she has isolated a DNA sequence which will enable the villainous corporation to develop a cure. What our heroes don’t know is the evil corporation has planted a minion among them, Lieutenant Martinov (Oleg Taktarov of “Den of Thieves”), to bring the formula back over their dead bodies.

One by one, Walker’s men and women are whittled down by ravenous zombies who have a habit of materializing where they are least expected. As one medic explains, once bitten, you are doomed. The only way to survive is to amputate the chomped appendage, or you’re kaput.

The best thing about “Dead Trigger” is its unforeseen use of deadpan humor. The boot camp is especially amusing when zombies catch one guy off-guard, and Walker saves his life by promptly amputating his arm.  Appropriately, “Dead Trigger” adheres strictly to the traditional zombie formula but brings nothing new to the table. For example, the zombies lurch about drunkenly when they walk, so an alert man on crutches could outdistance them.

Meantime, the filmmakers appropriate clichés from Hollywood war films. For example, one of our heroines finds herself surrounded by predatory zombies. She’s doomed, and she realizes it. Instead of gushing tears, she pulls the pin on a hand grenade and obliterates the group of zombies gnawing on her neck.  In other words, “Dead Trigger” makes the grade as a flesh-eating zombie epic.

Mind you, “Dead Trigger” is no “World War Z.” The latter coined $540 million here and abroad on a $190 million budget. However, “World War Z” didn’t have Dolph.  Furthermore, the violent action scenes differ because our heroes don’t rely exclusively on bullets to blast zombies.

Nevertheless, Walker and his unit obliterate more than enough zombie heads, but not as many as Brad Pitt did. “Dead Trigger” allows its versatile combatants to not only riddle heads with lead, but also slash and gnash them with blades.  The eleventh-hour twist in “Dead Trigger” is going to take some by surprise some while aggravate others.  Initially, it may even appear as if the filmmakers abandoned the narrative and left Dolph somewhere out there to die.

Dolph goes back to save a group of refuges, but his best efforts prove suicidal.  Earlier, during the rescue mission, we learn Walker had been bitten, but he carries a temporary antidote which keeps him alive.  Walker’s conscientious medic reminds him the antidotes provide only short-term relief. “Dead Trigger” qualifies as a different kind of Dolph movie because he isn’t invincible.

Indeed, this vulnerable shift in character and the zombie conspiracy plot heightens what would otherwise constitute a routine, standard-issue Dolph epic.  Ultimately, despite its modest amount of blood & gore, “Dead Trigger” should gratify Dolph’s fanbase as dependable derring-do that tweaks the formula without undue damage.

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