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      Life After Beth Review

      Life After Beth poster

      Life After Beth

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      Aubrey Plaza is so deadpan she's undeadpan, and not just in her new zombie movie. Playing April, Indiana's snarkiest state employee on "Parks and Recreation," the actress who'd be most likely mistaken for the MTV animated show goddess "Daria" slings so many bizarrely timed and unpredictable line readings at her skillful cohorts, with such straight-faced topspin, sometimes you don't know if you're in the company of an actress's extraordinarily practiced shtick or some kind of genius.

      The modest, occasionally amusing "Life After Beth," now in limited release, has been kicking around on DirecTV since mid-July. Writer-director Jeff Baena has made what is essentially a pre-zombie-apocalypse origin story. At the start Beth, an LA resident, has been dead 10 days, a victim of snakebite. Her sullen, vaguely off-putting boyfriend Zach, played monotonously by Dane DeHaan, is surprised to see her alive-ish, well and living in her folks' house.

      Beth does not know she's dead. (This is one of Baena's less helpful ideas.) All she knows, and what her astonished boyfriend learns, is that she now exhibits strange cravings for smooth jazz. She's also susceptible to bad rashes in sunlight and can become ravenously, murderously, superhumanly angry and destructive. She transforms into the world's most demanding girlfriend -- needy, violent and flesh-eating.

      Plaza gets to play two types of character in "Life After Beth": one squarely inside her "Parks and Recreation" comfort zone, the other in the film's less-interesting second half as a full-on, rasping zombie. Anna Kendrick has a couple of scenes as a rival for Zach's affections, and she's the polar opposite of Plaza in every conceivable way. She's also funny, her chipper vibe nicely at odds with the mayhem around her. The supporting cast includes John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon as Beth's parents, and Paul Reiser and Cheryl Hines as Zach's. Garry Marshall, vocally unmistakable, turns up as a zombified grandpa.

      Baena co-wrote "I Heart Huckabees" and while he has a sense of humor, the jokes here tend to be meager and tend to dribble on. DeHaan's heavy-lidded self-regard has a way of hindering the momentum, as does the insistent sensitive-indie-style soundtrack, used partly ironically, partly sincerely.

      This is the key to Plaza's appeal, while we're on the subject. She has a way of delivering a punch line with dry sincerity, and a way of undercutting a conventionally sincere moment with a deadly retort. Alas, Plaza can't do anything about the audience's zombie fatigue at this point in the undead cycle, except give "Life After Beth" all she has, her own way.

      MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language, some horror violence, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use)

      Running time: 1:31.

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