‘Life After Beth’ needs a bit more life: 2.5 stars

08/28/2014 8:00 AM

08/28/2014 1:00 PM

Rated R | Time: 1:31

The genre of zombie comedies isn’t moribund yet, but may be getting there. The latest example, “Life After Beth,” starts off as a nicely skewed romantic comedy with amusing humor and horror bits, but doesn’t really know where to take the premise.

The first feature from Jeff Baena (co-writer of “I Heart Huckabees”) takes a “what if you had it to do all over again” plot with a loopy complication: One member of the loving duo is no longer among the living. That would be Beth (Aubrey Plaza), who has recently expired from a snakebite. What’s more, she doesn’t realize, or won’t acknowledge, her demise, and her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) don’t want to worry her by letting her know.

This poses a series of grave problems for her boyfriend, Zach (up-and-coming Dane DeHaan), who mourns her passing and is understandably confused when she returns, an undead creature deeply in need of love and reassurance (as well as bloody flesh), but with some very serious anger issues.

The movie’s zombies — there seems to be an outbreak of the condition — have the usual array of horrific habits, maybe the worst of which is a fondness for smooth jazz.

The story loses steam toward the end when the film becomes a more straightforward, and bloodier, zombie epic, and we see a bit too much of Zach’s brother, a gun-crazy security guard (Matthew Gray Gubler).

Plaza hams it up appropriately in conveying Beth’s mood swings, from needy to sweet to enraged to famished for living morsels (though she’ll settle for auto upholstery). She has fun with the role, but like the rest of the film, outstays her welcome.

It’s always good to see Reilly at work. In the smaller roles, there are decent performances from Paul Reiser as Zach’s dad and Anna Kendrick as a young woman whom Beth considers a rival.

“Life After Beth” has its moments, but “Shaun of the Dead” remains the gold standard for this sort of thing.

(At Screenland Armour.)

| Walter Addiego,

San Francisco Chronicle

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