Contains mild spoilers.
Dead Air really starts well and there were a few moments I started to get carried away. The premise and situation are interesting, the acting surprisingly strong and tension and anxiety are allowed to build up with a solid and natural pace. Half an hour in I found myself invested in the characters and primed to see how it was all going to pan out. Unfortunately for Dead Air it's when the action finally shows it face things start to unravel and it all becomes if I'm honest, a bit of a mess.
It's Friday night and downtown Los Angeles late night phone-in anchor, the extremely confident and affable Moseley (Logan Burnhardt) and his small production crew have gone live on the air. There late night topic for the night is paranoia and as he and his co-host Gil (David Moscow) play the goofy double act on listeners dumb enough to air their insanity they start to receive calls that something particularly nasty is occurring just minutes from their studio.
As said, the set-up is good. The viewer like Moseley is a voyeur to the pandemonium engulfing the city. Taking calls, watching live TV feeds he and in turn us share the confusion and insanity of what appears to be an actual zombie outbreak and watching a small screen on a screen, or listening to first hand accounts of panic and violence things seem to be holding up and the rioting and attacks seem pretty convincing.
The problems arrive the same time the zombies do. I'm really not sure what director Corbin Bernsen had in mind with his strange arm flailing, grabbing, running and punching antagonists but I can tell you it doesn't work. I've read that writer Kenny Yakkel didn't actually conceive them as zombies and more like PCP crazies yet somewhere the two ideas have merged to create something that's neither convincing or frightening. They look like crazy people and act like crazy people albeit with the barest of make-up and zero blood, but they reanimate seemingly from the dead, they carry on waving their arms about like deranged octopuses after being stabbed through the chest and they do go in for flesh (well at least once, near the end). Someone thought they were doing a zombie film or someone thought half way through it should be a zombie film; either way, saying they weren't dead and just high doesn't wash with me.
The frankly amateurish and unconvincing zombies aren't the only problem though. There arrival brings with it the problem of what to actually do with them once they're there and this seems to have found Bernsen wanting. The build up was energetic, well paced with interesting and witty dialogue and it's like someone flicked a run-out-of-ideas switch and the last hour or so shows none of the earlier promise. The story and action become painfully forced, conversations become trite and predicatable, and are actually repeated on occasion, and laboured and laughable action sequences are forced in aplenty. Add a fumbled attempt to add a pro-tolerance, anti-hate political subtext that concludes the film with a cringe worthy Jerry Springer-esque final message and it's hard to remember the earlier positives.
I real missed opportunity where an interesting and original premise is ruined with the idea it needs to be much more. There's half a great film here and half a right load of uninspired guff which is only lifted above mediocrity with extremely solid acting. I'll end by mentioning the vastly superior Pontypool, which despite the same basic premise had a director and production crew who understood what it takes to work with a limited budget; go watch that instead, 4/10.