The Walking Dead
1995, R, 88 min. Directed by Preston A. Whitmore II. Starring Allen Payne, Eddie Griffin, Joe Morton, Vonte Sweet, Roger Floyd, Bernie Mac.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 3, 1995
Hyped as the “first film to accurately portray the plight of African-American soldiers in Vietnam,” The Walking Dead instead comes across as a straight-ahead, cookie-cutter festival of war film clichés, tossing in everything from belligerent D.I.s to green, lovesick Pfc.s destined for a bullet in the head -- there's even a man of the cross tormented by his dark past heading up this motley assortment of Hollywood echoes. The only discernible difference between Whitmore's film and dozens of other Vietnam, Korea, pick-your-police-action outings is that the main characters here are all black, and so instead of having them reminisce about life back home on the farm, they flashback (literally) to the instances of racial intolerance and inequality that prompted them to join the outbound Marines in the first place. Whitmore's script is full of intriguing possibilities that are never explored; if not for the flashbacks, these grunts' boots could be filled by anyone, of any color or ethnic background. Morton's Sgt. Barkley, the ex-preacher, Sweet's Pvt. Brooks, the scared young recruit, and Payne's Pfc. Evans, the fed-up family man, are all shamelessly obvious (it's amazing Sweet's character wasn't tagged with the nickname “Deadmeat” early on). Only sometime-comedian Griffin comes off as anything more than the thinnest of characterizations. His cocksure street-hustling character is a cliché, too, but you can tell he's stretching it as far as he can. This is Whitmore's first time behind the camera, and unfortunately it shows: His clumsy attempts to build atmosphere and tension are annoyingly obvious, and not even the firefights are, well, engaging. I'm at a loss as to why the industry has attached such a buzz to Whitmore's screenwriting ability (he's sold several hot properties in the last year), and The Walking Dead offers no clues. You want the black experience in Nam? Go watch Laurence Fishburne in Apocalypse Now. Again.