Breaking up is hard to do, especially when your girlfriend has gone to the trouble of coming back from the dead. That’s the jokey zom-com premise that almost animates “Life After Beth,” the directing debut of “I Heart Huckabees” co-writer Jeff Baena. Stars Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan are game, as is the lineup of mostly wasted supporting actors. But what might have been a snappy short is interminable at feature length, the mayhem-in-suburbia conceit generating few laughs as it stomps along.
DeHaan is sweetly mopey as high-schooler Zach, whose parents (Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser) just want him to get over it already — “it” being the death by snakebite of his sweetheart (Plaza). Beth’s folks (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon) are more sympathetic, especially doobie-sharing dad Maury, but soon they’re at odds with Zach over how to proceed when Beth shows up, fresh from the grave and unaware that she was the focal point of a recent funeral.
Attempts to protect Beth from that bit of bad news spark a few humorous situations, but flat, repetitive execution trumps the setup’s potential. Beth’s whiplash switches between confused teen and raging zombie are as tiresome for the audience as for Zach, who understandably goes a little gooey when Anna Kendrick shows up as someone who isn’t given to screaming fits. Or decomposing. However loaded the nice-girl-versus-uncontrollable-girl comparison, Kendrick and DeHaan’s interactions inject much-needed shots of character amid all the flailing.
Baena’s most inventive addition to zombie lore is the undead preference for smooth jazz. Subjecting the audience to easy-listening instrumentals at high volumes, however, is just plain cruel.
“Life After Beth.”
MPAA rating: R for language, horror violence, sexual content, nudity and brief drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.
Playing: At ArcLight, Hollywood.