Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 23, 2019)
1980s action heroes never die – they just go direct-to-video. That’s where we find Dolph Lundgren, as he stars in 2019’s Dead Trigger, another flick that skipped a theatrical run.
When a strange virus kills billions of humans and results in a horde of zombies, leaders push toward an unusual solution. They instigate a videogame called Dead Trigger, one that lets players simulate the current circumstances.
The system than recruits the best players to fight zombies in real life. Captain Kyle Walker (Lundgren) leads a team that tries to rescue scientists who work on a cure, all while they need to deal with the constant undead threat.
In a case of art imitating life, Dead Trigger the movie features Dead Trigger the videogame, all of which come based on an actual videogame called… Dead Trigger. The latter existed as a program meant for smartphones, not consoles, which makes it unusual as cinematic fodder. I think 2016’s Angry Birds Movie became the first film based on an app, but it’s still a small category of adaptations.
Given that I never heard of the source videogame – much less played it, obviously – I went into Trigger with no preconceived notions. Whether I liked or disliked the movie would in no way connect to my feelings about the game.
This becomes “for better or for worse” territory, as it’s possible I’d get more from Trigger if I enjoyed familiarity with/affection for the game. As it stands, the movie offers a few exciting scenes but usually feels fairly mediocre.
At the start, we get the impression the film will take an ironic tone ala 1997’s Starship Troopers, as we can see an obvious influence. This especially appears via the cynical ways a greedy corporation manipulates circumstances for their own profit.
After a fairly brief hint of this attitude, though, Trigger follows a much more standard path – or paths, I might say, as the movie exhibits a mix of influences. It melds “rag-tag band of warriors” with a variety of zombie stories to the point where it never finds its own identity.
The film’s rambling story becomes its biggest weakness. No, I don’t enter a flick like this with expectations for a tight narrative packed with three-dimensional characters, but Trigger just seems too scattered for its own good.
The tale bops from one character or circumstance to another without much clarity, and none of the roles or events really stick to the screen. Everything feels fairly rote and by the numbers, without signs of creativity on display.
2018 became a good year for Lundgren, as he enjoyed decent roles in the massive hit Aquaman as well as Creed II. The latter brought a real surprise, as Lundgren’s return to the Drago role that made him famous in 1985 allowed the actor to show actual range and dramatic impact.
No such miracle occurs in Trigger, as Lundgren goes on cruise control. He doesn’t bring a bad performance, but he “acts down” to the mediocre material and never manages to elevate the tale.
The same holds true for the rest of the cast. They play stereotypes and none can provide the pizzazz needed to give the parts extra life.
As a basic zombie-killing story, Trigger could be worse, for as scattered and uninspired as it may be, it still manages to keep the viewer mildly engaged. That’s a pretty weak recommendation, though, so don’t expect much from this forgettable effort.
Credit curiosity 1: the movie’s opening/closing titles call it Dead Trigger: Unkilled but everything else just refers to it as Dead Trigger.
Credit curiosity 2: the movie credits two directors: Mike Cuff and Scott Windhauser. However, they’re not billed as co-directors, so each one gets a separate credit.
Apparently Cuff started as the director but left the project due to conflicts about the direction it’d take. Windhauser took over for him.