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Movie Review: The Mad

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Nothing burps better than Billy Zane. It's the honest truth, dear readers. As soon as you and your Aunt Linda have finished consuming any of the dozens of various cinematic wafers on the bald one's unique resume, your sun-starved bodies will automatically become inflated with the gaseous compound known within scientific circles as BZ-14. The sudden explosion of this fragrant wind from your sickly piehole is a most enjoyable experience to behold. In fact, I strongly encourage anyone who has an abundance of BZ-14 currently turning chemical tricks in their seedy bellies to share that odorous air with whomever happens to be sitting to their immediate left and/or right.

I'll wait right here until you get back.

If you're eager to experience this oh-so satisfying gastronomical eruption for yourself, I'm very happy to report that director John Kalangis' deadpan zombie comedy The Mad is literally crawling with that delicious BZ-14 compound, thereby providing all of the required elements for a truly gut-busting, zombie-slaying good time. Of course, those desperately seeking a typical run-of-the-mill undead shocker may find themselves whining incessantly about the kooky antics gyrating wildly across their stepdad's second-hand television. In other words, you may want to pack your twisted sense of humor in the boot before embarking on this hilariously demented 90-minute family vacation.

Shiny bespectacled Billy Zane stars as Jason Hunt, a former New Wave musician turned family physician who finds himself metaphorically shackled within the dank, dark dungeon of what is commonly referred to as the dysfunctional family holiday. When a small detour from their predetermined plans lands them smack dab in the middle of nowhere, our bitterly bickering brood is forced to seek shelter within a dingy bed and breakfast reminiscent of the lodgings found skulking around your darkest nightmares. If you've ever taken a road trip through the eastern Kentucky mountains, I'm sure you're painfully familiar with this sort of off-beat derelict rat hole. My condolences.

To add yet another layer of deep-fried family fun to their wonky summer adventure, Jason and his daughter Amy — accompanied by their respective lovers — pay a visit to a local grease-pit that specializes in chemically-altered, zombie-spawning hamburgers. Unfortunately for our hungry, hungry heroes, the kitchen just ran out of that mouth-watering ground chuck they so feverishly crave. This inexcusable inconvenience, however, has its advantages: Instead of mutating into a legion of mindless skin-peeling zombies with a penchant for random shoplifting, this forlorn foursome is forced to fight their way out of the ensuing madness with the help of a wise-cracking cook and his leggy stepdaughter Steve. Will everyone who's not chewing on a human brain live to snack another day, or will they ultimately find themselves on a soiled menu in truck stop restaurant menu for the eternally damned?

Not everyone on this dying planet is going to enjoy The Mad as much as I did, and I'm fully prepared to live with this horrifying fact as long as nobody feels the need to thrust their crusty opinion into my slightly-confused, baby smooth face. Most of the humor found floating helplessly in this genre-bending bog is of a dialogue-driven nature, leaving those thirsting for a thought-provoking, Romero-inspired splatterfest with nothing to do but twiddle their malfunctioning opposable thumbs. It also takes a while to get into step with Kalangis' dry sense of humor; if you're not willing to stick around until you find its off-beat rhythm, perhaps this isn't the ghoul you're looking for.

And while the film does sport a few uneasy moments of juicy gore, The Mad isn't exactly what you'd call gratuitous in its display of on-screen grue. Please do not be fooled by the large UNRATED graphic plastered prominently on the DVD artwork; the picture's level of squishy content isn't exactly what you'd call overwhelming. To be fair, Kalangis doesn't seem very concerned with turning your stomach into a geyser of putrid proportions or savagely grossing out your significant other to the point of projectile vomiting. The violence is played more for laughs than anything else, a discomforting statement for those anticipating unabashed zombie mayhem. Sorry about that, folks.

It goes without saying that Billy Zane is easily The Mad's greatest asset, delivering an unusually heartfelt performance as a man coming face-to-face with every middle-aged male's worst nightmare: the terrifying, heart-stopping mid-life crisis. When presented with a never-ending army of undead hillbillies with an insatiable hunger for human flesh, Zane's character seems more concerned with rediscovering his techno-oriented musical abilities than overcoming the rotting obstacles wandering around outside. Since the film relies so heavily on the quirky demeanor of its main character, it's good that Kalangis found someone with Zane's skill to spearhead this silly production.

With new horror/comedies crashing the direct-to-video party every other week or so, it makes me all warm and tingly inside whenever I'm faced with an amalgamation that actually gets it right. The Mad is the proverbial diamond in the rough, a straight-to-video sleeper that gives us several nifty reasons to take a chance on all those low-budget genre films currently collecting dust on video store shelves the world over. This picture isn't going to change the way the earth rotates around the moon, mind you, but it should provide the appropriate audience with enough bowel-loosening BZ-14 to invoke a serious belch or two.

And once you've burped Billy, there's no going back.

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