Zombie movies are definitely a mixed bag, and there seems to be a higher proportion of awful material, as opposed to other genres. There's some good stuff out there, though, and although zombie actioner Code Red isn't without flaw, it does rise above the usual dreck.
John (martial artist/stunt man/actor Paul Logan) is an American special forces operative who is sent into Bulgaria to investigate an incident that appears to involve a corpse reanimating. His superiors have information about a gas attack toward the end of World War II that brought a lot of dead German soldiers back to life, and believe that a Bulgarian military warehouse is home to a cache of the nerve agent, long thought destroyed. (The prologue set in WWII is quite impressive, even absent the zombie material.)
John teams up with Anna (Manal El-Feitury), an American doctor at the base (which it seems NATO is taking over) who witnessed the body come back to life. She's been sacked after reporting the incident, and is just staying home with her daughter Miriam (Mya-Lecia Naylor). The investigation is strongly opposed by the Bulgarian military, because they've been selling weapons from storage illegally, and don't want to be found out. Of course, the best solution is to firebomb the warehouse, and destroy the evidence. Unfortunately, this also releases clouds of toxic gas, and soon enough zombies are shambling all over the place.
Code Red doesn't deliver a lot of originality in the plot department. It's relatively fast paced, plot points fit together fairly logically, and it generally holds together. This is fairly standard stuff, zombie-wise. But what it does have is really high production values. Great sets and locations, plenty of extras, authentic costumes and equipment for the period sections, and very high quality practical effects and makeup. The zombies look great, the transformations being accompanied by oozing pustules and inflammation. You can tell that a lot of attention and resources were put into making the zombies look appropriately creepy, slimy and wonderful.
The performances are uneven. Young Mya-Lecia Naylor is excellent as the shy but determined kid who has to make her way through a zombie infested foreign city after being separated from her mother. Manal El-Feitury is pretty good too, and definitely has the chops for the material. Paul Logan is decent, but doesn't seem to be a natural actor (though he's been in a lot of productions), and can't quite manage the steely resolve when he's threatening someone, nor the emotional heights when berating them that are necessary. It seems that he would have done better in a role that wasn't quite as fraught with emotion. His performance isn't bad, exactly, just a few beats off.
There is also a lot of shaky cam, especially in the prologue, and that tends to be annoying. And the CG enhancements to the blood spatter, though relatively subtle, seem unnecessary. The story seems rushed, and it's difficult to empathize with the characters, except for Miriam, because of Naylor's spot on and adorable performance, so the denouement, which is supposed to tug at the heartstrings doesn't pack as much of an emotional wallop as was intended. There does seem to be some indefinable something missing from the whole affair that makes it not quite work as it should.
Overall, there's good and bad in Code Red, but it still manages to be an above average zombie film. Recommended.
Video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks quite good. The high production values really come through here, with rich blues and greys proliferating, but the image never being overwhelmed by shadow. It's sharp, clear and highlights the crumbling Bulgarian architecture very well.
Audio is available in Dolby digital 5.1 channel and 2 channel. The 5.1 channel mix is good and immersive, and the viewer feels a part of the battle and zombie attack scenes, but not a whole lot of subtle stuff is going on here. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language tracks.
There are a few extras included. They are:
This is eleven and a half minutes of behind the scenes footage, and interviews with actors Manal El-Feitury, Paul Logan and Mya-Lecia Naylor. This is pretty interesting.
This is merely the twelve minute prologue, set in World War II, without the visual effects added in, with an isolated score.
Behind the Scenes and Outtakes
There are three sets of outtakes, totaling about six minutes, focusing on Anna's neighbor Koina who becomes a zombie, John being attacked by zombies, and the arms dealer / strip club owner Vlad rehearsing a scene.
Code Red has good points and bad points, but the positives outweigh the negatives. It's moderately fun, has lots of action, great looking zombies and fun splatter and gore. It's not a classic or innovative, but it's definitely work a look, especially to zombie fans.