When I first heard that there was going to be a movie based on Javier Hernandez's comic book El Muerto, I was pretty excited. The fact that I knew Hernandez in passing had less to do with my interest than the fact that a film based on an independent comic series, if popular and financially successful, could lead to more cinematic opportunities for other comic creators. With Hollywood mining the world of comics for potential blockbusters, most filmmakers have only looked toward the big properties like Batman and Spider-Man as possible film projects, ignoring, more often than not, the wealth of great material found in indie publications. But the reality is that in order to get more films made that are based on comic books most people have never heard of, those movies that do get made need to be good and they need to make money.
Rechristened The Dead One for its cinematic incarnation, this adaptation of El Muerto stars Wilmer Valderrama (of television's That 70's Show) as Diego de la Muerte, a Mexican-American living in Los Angeles. While on his way to a Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, Diego gets into an accident. Lying on the side of the road he has what he mistakes for some sort of hallucination, but in actuality Diego has died, and meets up in the netherworld with Mictlanehcuhtli, the Aztec God of the Death. After he awakes on the side of the road, Diego soon learns that while it is still Dia de Los Muertos, an entire year has passed since his accident, and that he has actually risen from the grave for reasons he can not yet comprehend (unfortunately, it is also difficult for the audience to comprehend much of the purpose behind Diego's resurrection). While our bewildered hero attempts to unravel the mystery of his new existence as one of the walking dead, an ancient evil looms on the horizon, bringing with it the threat of extinction to the entire human race. Can Diego save the day, or is he a pawn in the sinister ploy to rein death and destruction on mankind?
The Dead One is, if nothing else, an ambitious film that tries to be something of merit. But the film is beset by so many problems that for all of its sincere efforts to be good, it only seems to reach that goal infrequently and by accident. Written for the screen and directed by Brian Cox, The Dead One has the look, feel and pace of a made for Sci-Fi Channel movie, or perhaps the pilot episode of a new series on Spike TV. Seriously, you keep waiting for there to be commercial breaks. Cox exhibits rudimentary competence as a director, but nothing by way of visual flair, creating a by-the-numbers look that is neither compelling nor exciting. Cox's lack of directorial muscle would be more excusable if his script was better, but that too is tepid at best, and often times aimlessly wanders into the realm of confusing.
Wilmer Valderrama's performance is the closest thing to the glue that holds The Dead One together; but as far as glue goes, Valderrama is pretty low-tack. It is clear that Valderrama is giving it his all, but Cox' script and direction either asks little of him, or simply does not know what to do with him. As written in the script, Diego is not what you would call a "fully developed" character, but he's not exactly enigmatic either. Instead, Diego, like all the characters in The Dead One seems under-developed, as do their relationships. This is especially true of Diego and his girlfriend Maria (Angie Cepeda), who manage to generate not a single spark of romantic heat.
The Dead One is the sort of film you don't really hate, but you find yourself working so hard to like it that you start getting pissed off. By the third time you check your watch to see how long you've been watching, it becomes clear that there isn't something wrong with you, but the film itself. The Dead One wants to be engaging and interesting, but more often than not it is neither. By the time the film gets to the anti-climatic climax, you're more likely to find that you've been watching the film just to prove a point to yourself (or the person you convinced to watch the film with you). All of this is to say that while there are worse movies out there to watch, it still doesn't mean you need to watch this one.