“Shaun Of The Dead” was one of the better cult comedies of recent years, but like so many cult comedies — “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Dazed and Confused” spring to mind — it went straight-to- video in Japan. So it’s all the more surprising that “Fido,” released as “Zombino” in Japan, a new movie that is clearly stealing from the zombie-comedy schtick of “Shaun,” is getting a theatrical release here despite being far less funny than its predecessor.

“Shaun Of The Dead” had two things going for it: one, a good working knowledge of zombie movie tropes to base its parody on, and two, the nasty idea that the living were more out of it, more zombified, than the undead.

“Fido,” for its part, also has a pretty decent premise, but that’s about all it has. It imagines an alternative America where zombies have been domesticated, thanks to controlling electrical collars, and employed as domestic servants and service-sector drudges. Unfortunately, “Fido” is one of those movies where you spend the first half hour wondering when the laughs are gonna come and the next hour realizing that they’re not going to.

Director Andrew Currie
Run Time 93 minutes
Language Japanese
Opens Opens Oct. 27., 2007

Canadian director Andrew Currie seems to think his bizarre setup will suffice in the laughs department. The America he creates is the squeaky-clean, peachy-keen white-picket suburbia of 1950s’ television (think “Leave It To Beaver”), eerie in its plastic perfection and chipper conformity. Into this stifling order Currie inserts a little chaos in the form of pet zombie Fido (Billy Connolly), the disruptive outsider who will overturn the dreaded “white male patriarchy” and get everyone to loosen up a bit. If you’ve seen “Edward Scissorhands,” you know the drill.

Status-conscious housewife Helen Robinson (Carrie-Anne Moss) doesn’t want her family to be the last on the block not to own a zombie (goodness, what would the neighbors think?) so she buys Fido despite the fact that husband Bill (Dylan Baker, “Happiness”) has a mortal fear of the undead. Their son, Timmy (K’Sun Ray), bonds with Fido, given that he has no friends and Dad is always off at the golf course (keep repeating: patriarchy is bad.).

What follows could pretty much be an episode of the old TV program “Lassie,” with Fido taking the place of the brave collie; when Timmy is threatened by bullies, his pet shows up to save the day . . . except this pet’s bite is a bit more gnarly than anything on ’50s TV.

Parodying TV programs that are beyond the memory of most people under 40 (except channel-surfing couch-potato junkies), however, may not be the brightest idea. The question also arises: Why set this in the imaginary ’50s? The ’50s may make an easy target for a satire of the American suburbs (see “Pleasantville,” “Far From Heaven,” et al.), but it’s not a very relevant one. Just stop and think about this for a moment: Americans living in fencedoff, heavily protected communities where an underclass they regard with suspicion and fear mows their lawns and cleans their houses — doesn’t this sound like the Southern California of today? Just substitute “illegal immigrants” for “zombies” and there you go. But Currie mutes this potential satire by changing the decade.

“Fido” stumbles along, gradually warming up to its bog-standard indie-movie theme of patriarchy bashing. Helen starts getting warm, fuzzy feelings for Fido, Timmy gets the dad he needs, and not one but two fathers get offed in the final reel, which ends with a happy family scene where the zombie is the new father figure. Oedipal urges on the part of Mr. Currie? Perhaps, but more likely just the knee-jerk “political correctness” that’s infecting American indies these days.

The week’s other films:
Quiet Room ni Yokoso: Is it more cuckoo in there or out here?
Vitus: The gift of genius costs its young owners plenty

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