Zombie comedy meets fifties satire in this brightly-colored but ultimately rather flaccid Canadian picture, which situates a sort of benign post-apocalyptic “Omega Man” situation in an Ozzie-and-Harriet environment. “Fido” features some mildly clever ideas and solid performers, but it stretches its one-joke premise and artificial look beyond the breaking point.
The background, presented in an ersatz instructional film shown in young Timmy’s (K’Sun Ray) elementary-school class, is that some years ago, a conflict known as the Zombie Wars resulted in the establishment of enclaves of unaffected people, separated from “wild” regions where zombies still roam free by fences and protected by a powerful corporation called ZomCom. Within the safe zones, zombies controlled by conduct collars serve as menial workers and servants.
Timmy, who’s bullied at school, gets little help at home from his parents, distant dad Bill (Dylan Baker) and picky mom Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss). He finally gets a friend of sorts when his mother, tired of being looked down on by neighbors, acquires a zombie housekeeper (Billy Connolly) despite Bill’s opposition (he has bad memories about his father and zombies). Timmy and the new servant—Fido, his Lassie of course—bond, but the connection is tested when Fido goes on a rampage and offs a nasty old neighbor, setting off a spasm of counter-zombie action by the corporation’s chief enforcer Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerny), a militant fanatic who’s just moved in next door. Also involved in the business is another neighbor, the nutty Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson), a former worker at the company who employs his beautiful zombie as a sex object.
“Fido” embraces lots of satirical targets—boy-and-his-dog movies, coming-of-age stories, fifties horror movies, domestic sitcoms from the same period. And along the way it occasionally hits home with bits about funerals, social norms and parental expectations. But the general feel is one of blandness and malaise, with the jokes set up with agonizing slowness and then played in a stilted fashion that exaggerates every turn as though the picture were aimed at feeble-minded viewers who couldn’t otherwise understand it. There’s a comfortable, easygoing approach to Andrew Currie’s direction that defangs the material, as it were, and too often strands the actors. Connolly, for example, has never been so ineffectual, though to be sure he’s constrained by the role. But Baker seems to be coasting, too; and when a performer like Nelson revs things up, he’s defeated by the lameness of the material.
And so while one has to admire the look of the movie, especially as it was obviously made with modest resources—Jan Kiesser’s cinematography, Rob Gray’s production design, Michael Norman Wong’s art direction, Mary E. McLeod’s costumes and James Willcock’s set decoration are all exemplary in that context, ultimately the lack of edge and energy sap its satiric effectiveness. It ends up a pale reflection of a film like Bob Balaban’s dark, unsettling “Parents” (1989), which treated many of the same themes in a way that was really funny and harrowing at once. Compared to it, “Fido” is, if you’ll excuse the expression, a mutt.