Alan Ford as Ray Macguire, perhaps the most badassed granddad in cinema history.
In London's East End, a a questionable group of (mostly) well-intentioned working class criminals plan and execute a bank robbery, the spoils of which are earmarked to prevent the demolition of a home for old age pensioners where the beloved granddad of the robbery's masterminds is spending his autumn years. Upon making off with 2.5 million pounds, the robbers exit the bank and find themselves in the middle of a full-blown zombie infestation, a state of affairs caused when a construction company discovers and opens a vault where zombies were entombed in the 1600's. Once the first zombie tastes construction worker flesh, the undead plague spreads exponentially and in no time the East End is a living nightmare populated by hordes of ravenous revenant flesh-eaters and the living who are trapped with them once the government contains the infestation by sealing off the area. With all hell breaking loose around them, the robbers prepare to head to the old folks' home with the intent to rescue the trapped geezers, but first they must contend with the reckless and homicidal madness of one of their crew, Mental Mickey (played to the brain-damaged hilt by Ashley Bashy Thomas), the pair of hostages he takes, and other assorted mishaps. When they finally make it to the seniors, the hinted-at hard nature of several of the old folks comes to the fore as the robbers and the pensioners fight their way out with enough firepower to stage the coup of a small third world nation.
When I first heard of the British COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, I was intrigued by its potential as a character piece set during a zombie outbreak. The setup involving the pensioners looked like a great idea because instead of the now rote zombie shooting gallery tropes that are now a part of the horror story playbook, we would see how senior citizens, people whose bodies and agility had fallen victims to the infirmities wrought by the aging process, would handle an ever-advancing maelstrom of famished fiends. As the story progresses, we're shown just how fucking tough some of the seniors are, especially foul-mouthed alpha fogey Ray Maguire (Alan Ford, whose Bricktop from SNATCH is now something of a cult hero), who was apparently some kind of fearsome gangster back in the days. No details about exactly what Ray and his cronies got up to during their heyday but it's made quite clear that there were illegal dealings aplenty and Ray and friends were not afraid to get murderous if it suited their agendas. That kind of character setup greatly appealed to me, plus the film was a zombie infestation comedy, British-style, so I eagerly anticipated the film getting a release in the States. Any film that might vie for the crown of the beloved SHAUN OF THE DEAD stood to be of interest and a potential ton of fun.
Unfortunately COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, while not terrible by any means, is rather a disappointment. The comedy is mostly tepid — and I say that as a lifelong lover of British humor — the younger characters are far less interesting than their elders, and while it's great to see Alan Ford's performance as Ray, the film pretty much squanders the presence of Honor Blackman as Peggy, whose level of comfort with an AK-47 raises many questions that receive not even the tiniest crumb of an answer. I can't speak for the rest of you but Honor Blackman has been one of my favorite actresses since I was a kid, thanks to her turn as Hera in the Ray Harryhausen masterpiece JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), and her role as the infamously-monikered Pussy Galore in the Connery-era James Bond classic GOLDFINGER (1964), the part for which she will never be forgotten. As of this writing she's 93 years old and still as bright-eyed and charming as ever (she was 86 or so when the film was shot), so her relatively limited screen time was both disappointing and a waste of a great opportunity.
Honor Blackman, age 87 and still kicking ass.
Nonetheless, she does sort out zombies with a heavy mallet and the aforementioned machine gun, plus we get to hear her say "fuck," so it's not a total loss.
While SHAUN OF THE DEAD has nothing to fear from it, COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES does include a few genuinely inspired bits, chief among which is the ultra-slow chase scene involving a hobbling ancient codger (Richard Briers) on a walker being pursued by an equally-snail-paced zombie, and the creative use of an orally-administered hand grenade.
The film's most inspired moment.
And enough cannot be said of Alan Ford as Ray. He's far and away the character everyone who sees this film will remember and root hardest for, and I wish he'd been the film's straight-up protagonist. Aged though he may be, Ray is one tougher-than-leather East End motherfucker and you'd better believe he's not going to tolerate legions of zombies fucking up his town.
The bottom line on this one is that it's worth sitting through for Ray and a few bright spots, but don't believe the online hype about it from its native U.K. The reviews I saw for COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES online described it as "fantastic" and "hilarious," so I wonder if that level of enthusiasm for it has to come from being part of the culture that spawned it and having a familiarity with and ingrained understanding of Cockneys as simply another flavor of being English and not as poorly-depicted and often badly-acted stereotypes/caricatures. I'll give the characters this: they are definitely not the broad and stale Cockney sitcom types that Americans have seen over the decades, and the more natural human approach was definitely welcome. Anyway, I give the film a grudging recommendation for zombie completists and followers of the horror-comedy sub-genre. As previously stated, it's not a bad movie, just flawed and more than a bit of a misfire. That said, there are infinitely worse ways to pass 87 minutes.
Cover art for the U.K. DVD release.