Is there a better example of a cinematic "one-hit wonder" than Jon Heder? After starring as the awkward titular anti-hero of "Napoleon Dynamite" he was seemingly everywhere and it soon became apparent his acting range was far from impressive. Does Heder's most recent endeavor, the web series "Woke Up Dead" break that streak? No, a thousand times no. In fact the series and Heder's performance in particular make one pine for mediocre fluff like "School for Scoundrels" or dare I say, "The Benchwarmers?"
Originally airing on Crackle, the 22(!) episode (each running approximately four minutes) is collected here as one "seamless" 84-minute exercise in futility that will test your patience and cast undeserved scorn at the concept of a web series. Unlike, per say, "The Guild" that has expanded over four-seasons into a 12-episode series of approximately six to seven minutes each, "Woke Up Dead" is just too long, mostly because it doesn't accomplish 25% the scope and depth a season of "The Guild" masters. Also unlike "The Guild," "Woke Up Dead" isn't funny and lacks a single character they audience can identify with, let alone enjoy.
Heder stars as Drex, who, wait for it... wakes up dead...discovered by his roommate/friend, Matt (Josh Gad) who is an aspiring filmmaker, who sets out to make a name for himself by making schlocky videos of couples making out and what he believes to be his dead friend. What a great guy, right? Heder bumbles his way through the series with his usual deadpan tone, oblivious to the concept of how to properly emote. To be a little bit fair to Heder, the writing is the weakest point of the series, which may have worked as an episode-at-a-time project, but when put together as one feature, feels like the work of a hyperactive teenager spouting off every idea that pops into his head; very few plot threads are properly evolved. Most are brought up for a few minutes at a time, before something new springs up, an obvious effect of the four-minute episode approach. Drawing comparisons to "The Guild" again, there's no excuse for such wish-washy storytelling, as that series made it a habit to leave viewers on a cliffhanger, only to pick up the next episode and sometimes follow through to a third consecutive episode. "Woke Up Dead" though doesn't choose this approach and tries to pass itself off as a straight through feature and ultimately fails.
The majority of the program focuses on Drex's shenanigans as a zombie, but takes detours to his dysfunctional workplace, complete with stock overbearing boss and creepy co-worker, Andy, played by Wayne Knight, phoning in a Neuman-esque performance. A conspiracy angle is introduced and eventually expanded upon, which feels like filler so the writers don't have to constantly exploit the zombie aspect of Drex. Matt and Drex's love interest, Cassie (Krysten Ritter) pop up on a regular basis, mostly reminding viewers they are Drex's seedy friend and love interest respectively. Josh Gad's performance as Matt is a close runner up to the writing as the most dismal aspect of the series. Chronically unfunny, Gad reminds me of a low-rent Jack Black and like Heder is given line-after-line of bad dialogue to spout. After 10 minutes, we get he's a sleaze that will film anything for fame, but the creators feel we need this aspect shoved down our throats every chance we can get. Essentially, if he's not filming something tacky, Matt is making a C-rate sleazebag zinger.
In the directing department, "Woke Up Dead" is an equally flat and uninspired as the story. Cinematography is non-existent, consisting mostly of static, poorly lit shots and amateur level camera tricks. Someone was very proud of their discovery of slow motion, bullet time, and entry level filter effects, which put the final nail in the coffin. What is most infuriating, isn't that "Woke Up Dead" promises a zombie tale, only to push it to the background for a by-the-books, lite-mystery nor the nonsensical cliffhanger ending (the show was originally produced in 2009 and it's a safe bet there will be no resolution); it's that the half-hearted production casts a negative light on the credibility of the web series. Yes, there are a lot of worse series' out there, but they aren't getting commercial DVD releases by Sony. Like the bad fan film "Star Wreck," once you market something alongside other productions, theatrical or straight-to-video, you earn justified comparisons. "Woke Up Dead" is essentially a mediocre, amateur film trying to pass itself off as something more. Please don't let this bad example of the format sour you on the better shows out there.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features a healthy dose of aliasing, compression artifacts, and digital noise. It's an ugly transfer for a 2010 release, with inconsistent contrast levels and colors that are a far cry from lifelike. I would ultimately attribute the problems to both poor cinematography and bad mastering.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track sounds more like a standard stereo track. Dialogue is clear and front heavy, however, surrounds aren't properly utilized and overall, the track has little "oomph." English subtitles and subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
In a final attempt at mocking cruelty, the disc features a large number of bonus featurettes. All running around four-minutes each, with no Play All feature, they include looks at "The Making of Woke Up Dead," "Bullet Makeup," "The Creators of Woke Up Dead," "Zombies!," "The Characters," an interview with Jon Heder, "Time for Some Puke!," "A Tour of the Set with Krysten Ritter," "On the Set of Woke Up Dead," "Jon Had a Baby!," "Matt's Blogs (a 14-minute total, in-character exercise in anger management that is as stupid s the full feature) " and last but not least the series trailer.
"Woke Up Dead" is a drab, unfunny, mess of a web series clumsily edited together in a feature that looks like it suffers from ADD. Acting and writing are equally to blame, while the dismal technical presentation is the cherry on top of a sundae of fail. Skip It.