There’s a fine line between so-bad-its-good and just plain bad. Unfortunately for fans of zombies and boy bands, which should be a good-bad match made in heaven, Syfy’s Dead 7 offers only glimpses at the goofy fun you might be hoping for before collapsing under the weight of its own self-seriousness. After the success of Sharknado, Syfy re-teamed with The Asylum (the studio behind some of the so-bad-its-good all-timers) for Dead 7 in the hopes of conjuring another social media phenomenon. This time, pitting erstwhile boy band stars against the army of the undead, uniting members of *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, O-Town and 98 Degrees for a nostalgia-driven exercise in wtf.
Written by Sawyer Perry and directed by Danny Roew takes place in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, where the human survivors have adjusted to simpler, cartoonish Western lifestyle where teeth are currency, there’s a whorehouse on every corner, and nobody worries much about showering. The film doesn’t waste too much time on plot so I won’t either, but the action kicks up when the nefarious Apocalypta (MadTV‘s Debra Wilson) and her diabolical henchman Johnny Vermillion (A.J. McLean) amass an army of the undead — known as Copperheads — to lay waste to these peaceful hamlets for…reasons.
Enter our heroes, the titular Dead 7, a would-be singing, dancing troupe of hired gunmen assembled on a mission to find Apocalypta and end her reign of terror. (In one of the film’s most baffling missteps there is literally no singing or dancing at any point in this movie unless you count the cast-sung theme song ‘In the End’, which you shouldn’t.) Here’s the breakdown: Nick Carter, who also gets a producer and story credit, heads up the team of resistance fighters as the laconic gunslinger Jack. There’s also his All-American type brother Billy (Jeff Timmons), the hard-fighting woman who loved them both, Daisy Jane (Carrie Keagan), the boozing, whoring, scene-stealing Whiskey Joe (Joey Fatone), the vigilante ninja Komodo (Erik-Michael Estrada), the sharpshooter Vaquero (Howie Dorough), and the mysterious warrior Sirene (Lauren Kitt Carter). (Chris Kirkpatrick and Jacob Underwood also pop up briefly.)
The gaggle of former TRL heartthrobs takes the fight to Apocalypta, doling out a significant amount of zombie carnage in the process. Bullets fly, heads explode, limbs are severed — the undead are sliced, diced, shot and blasted. The Walking Dead this ain’t, so don’t expect any world-class practical effects. By now, we know kind of effects to expect from The Asylum (the low-budget kind), but that’s just part of the fun.
And fun is in unfortunately short supply in Dead 7. The amusement over the basic boy bands vs zombies concept wears off about 10 minutes after the hypercolorized, bargain-bin Sin City style character introductions. Once the team is settled in, the film takes on an earnest tone and forgets to be in on the joke. Only McLean and Fatone seem to know what movie they’re in, hamming it up to the rafters, having a rollicking good time and letting the audience have one with them. There’s a lot of “cool tough guy” acting going on and while they’re shooting for the stoic, heroic type there’s ultimately too much investment in looking badass on camera rather than giving these guys qualities worth caring about, or any qualities at all, for that matter.
Perhaps most peculiar of all, especially considering the target audience for a movie starring a team of men who helped guide a generation of women through puberty, is that Dead 7 is ultimately a hypermasculine fantasy. Each of its male characters is an archetype of machismo — the ninja, the lone ranger, the booze-soaked whoremonger, the perfect shot, the bulging biceps boy scout — while the females are all dressed up in costumes so T&A enhanced, they might as well have come from the Halloween Store.
Which would be fine if those costumes lined up with the overall tone of the film, but ultimately the deeply goofy proceedings are handled with a little bit too much self-seriousness. There is delight to be found in the performances of McLean and Fatone, in the way that Timmons and Keagan find new ways to shoot from a snuggle position, and of course, in the concept at large when the occasional moment strikes and you realize how miraculously bizarre it is that such a movie even exists. It’s just unfortunate that Dead 7 doesn’t lean into that insanity and never becomes the outlandish romp the concept deserves.