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‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ bites off more than it can chew: 2.5 stars

Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) battles more than class restrictions in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) battles more than class restrictions in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Sony

True confession: I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling mashup “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

The prospect of Jane Austen’s genteel romance interrupted by the undead sounds like a fun idea, but the book is little more than the original text with random zombie references inserted every few paragraphs.

Maybe the novel gets better as it goes along. It translates fairly well to the big screen, replacing the novel’s twee awkwardness with cinematic momentum, if not much sense.

The movie begins with snooty Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) taking out a zombie at a whist party, then moves into a much-needed explanation of how, exactly, Regency England became infested with shambling corpses (the French were probably involved).

The familiar characters are all introduced, although they’re as likely to be polishing swords as practicing the pianoforte. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and her sisters dodge both zombie attacks and their mother’s attempts to marry them off, especially when the arrival of Darcy, his friend Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) and the dashing Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) coincides with some unusual undead activity.

Director Burr Steers (who wrote the script with Grahame-Smith) handles the different genres skillfully. Austen’s witty dialogue is delivered by actors who can handle it, most notably Charles Dance (as the unflappable Mr. Bennet) and former “Dr. Who” star Matt Smith, whose portrayal of Parson Collins may be the funniest ever filmed.

There are several effective scenes involving battles with the undead, with the severed limbs and exploding heads somehow remaining safely within the PG-13 range, and nary a drop of zombie goo on anyone’s pretty frocks.

There’s an interesting mythology surrounding the creatures’ condition. These are smarter, faster zombies than we’re used to, and they’ll be worthy foes in the inevitable marquee-busting sequel (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the Apocalypse and Maybe a Demon or Two”?).

The problems with the story’s concept are still tough to surmount. Society balls and marriage obsessions seem sillier than ever in the face of mortal threats, and there’s no real sense of danger when the neighbors can still come over for tea and gossip.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is two good movies spliced together into one pretty decent one. Considering the gimmick that inspired it, that’s more than anyone could have expected.

Find more reviews by freelancer Loey Lockerby at suchacritic.com.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

  1/2

Rated PG-13. Time: 1:48

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