Veteran-helmed zombie comedy doesn’t take itself too seriously
by MATTHEW GAULT
Zombies are ravaging America, but former U.S. Army Ranger-turned-internet superstar Mat Best and his team have the cure. The heroes need to get the zombie-antidote into the hands of government scientists.
One problem — Col. Holloway, whose troops guard the scientists, won’t share their secret location with Best. “Didn’t you fuck my limbless daughter?” Holloway asks Best. There’s a flashback involving an, uh, Dumpster.
The two argue and neither pays attention when the daughter herself enters the room. She is, as Holloway pointed out, limbless. No arms, all nubs.
The daughter asks for the keys to a building and Best, without turning around to face his former lover, plucks them from Holloway’s desk and hurls them into her chest.
The keys clatter to the ground and the daughter bends over to pick them up with her nubs. Holloway and Best argue — the dialogue full of clunky exposition that repeats the plot and cements the stakes.
But the sound of jangling booms over the conversation as Holloway’s daughter struggles to pick up the keys off the ground. It’s uncomfortable at first, but as the keys jangle and the scene drags that discomfort turns to laughter. If you’re open to it.
This is Range 15.
Mary Dague, an Iraq war veteran who lost her arms in combat, plays the colonel’s daughter. She’s in on the joke. Later in the film, Dague returns with knives strapped to her nubs and takes down a powerful zombie.
Range 15 is a no-budget, Indiegogo-funded, strangely star-studded, rude, crude filth-fest. It’s probably going to offend you, but it might just make you laugh, too.
The plot of Range 15 is pretty basic. Veteran and YouTube-sensation Best and his buddies — all playing themselves — wake up in the drunk tank after a night of hard partying. While they slept it off, zombies overran the planet. “The disease spread like herpes in a Ft. Bragg barracks,” one explains.
The crew leave the drunk tank and proceed to kill zombies and save the world. But really, the plot is secondary. It’s just there to prop up Range 15’s mix of crude humor and military film-cliche takedowns.
To hear the filmmakers tell it, Range 15 started as a bar conversation between veterans tired of Hollywood’s potrayal of American soldiers. Best and his friends hated the saccharine narratives, equipment- and uniform-inaccuracies and the ridiculous tactics of cinema soldiers.
So they decided to do better.
The group wrote a script and launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the project. Fans pledged more than a million dollars to the project. The crew roped in schlock-meister Ross Patterson to direct and scooped up stars including Keith David, William Shatner and Ron Jeremy for bit parts.
It’s a bold, bizarre project that succeeds for two reasons. The first is Gene Vandeham — a walking, talking, military stereotype brought to life by director Patterson.
Vandemahm is everything Best and his friends hate about Hollywood’s portrayal of American soldiers. He goes it alone, takes the hard heroic way when it doesn’t make sense and wields dual grenade launchers like a boss. His hair is beautiful and the ladies love him.
“Guys like that are the reason I got out,” Best explains.
“Guys like that are the reason dudes enlist,” co-star and producer Nick Palmisciano retorts.
Range 15 also works because it’s so obviously a labor of love. I’ve never seen a movie where the filmmakers seemed so confidently not to give a fuck what anyone thought about them. Best, Palmisciano and their crew made this movie for their community and with their community — and it shows.
In every scene, Best and his buddies barely contain their smiles. Even David, who plays Holloway, seems like he could break character and burst out laughing at any moment. That enthusiasm, like the zombie plague, is infectious.
Which is good, because there’s a chance a lot of this movie’s better material will fly over the heads of civilian audiences. When the heroes need to get onto an Army base, they have to use challenge coins to bribe their way past the guards. Later, they throw P.T. belts at the same guards.
There’s jokes about the Air Force and officer speeches, obscure references to Francis Scott Key and sodomy and more than a few military movie cliches lampshaded for the audience’s benefit.
It’s the kind of film that really shouldn’t work. The plot exists only to carry the military in-jokes and crude barracks humor, the acting is passable but not great and some of the material will make liberals’ knees jerk in their seats.
But because everyone seems so happy, so full of joy and so ready to laugh at themselves, Range 15 just kind of … works.
Pleasure permeates every frame. From the moment Marcus Luttrell shows up, and promptly dies, I could see that everyone on set was having a blast. It’s hard not to get swept up in that.
Nowhere is that infectious enthusiasm more clear than in the behind-the-scenes footage that plays over the closing credits. Limbless vets in zombie makeup shed their prostheses to writhe on the ground in front of a camera.
Grinning men and women come together to hold up boom mics, litter the ground with bullet casings and spray fake blood onto extras. Seeing that is worth the price of admission.
You’ll also see a zombie dwarf, a semi-nude UFC battle, Danny Trejo, hot zombie love scenes and a blow-up-doll as a supporting cast member. If any of that sounds like a good time to you, you’re in luck — Range 15 is in theaters now.