It’s strange how cinematic math doesn’t always add up. I mean, Kevin James as a bumbling security guard bouncing into things trying to be funny should be box office poison, while Arnold Schwarzenegger tackling zombies should be every 80’s action fan’s fantasy come true. But if we all knew the answers to Hollywood's equations, then the world would be a dull place, which is why Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 has probably already grossed more than $50 million, and Maggie is unforgivably underwhelming.
Maggie’s main problem is that, despite possessing all the raw ingredients, it fails to deliver what you expect of it. And when I say "all the raw ingredients," I simply mean two: Arnold Schwarzenegger and zombies. Surely all Maggie’s writer and director needed to do in order to succeed was mesh these two traits together in a pulsating and gory fashion. But instead, director Henry Hobson and writer John Scott 3 proceed in an entirely different and character-driven direction, which while commendable, and at first beguiling, ultimately leads the film down a cul-de-sac of disappointment.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Wade, a father on the hunt for his missing daughter who went missing during the zombie apocalypse. He finds Maggie (Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin) amidst the declining civilization, only to learn that she’s been bitten. With most other zombie movies, Schwarzenegger’s Wade would only have a few moments to think before either shooting his daughter between the eyes or allowing her to nibble him into one of the undead, too. But Maggie’s zombies have eight weeks before they manifest into their permanently zen-like state, so Wade decides to spend as much time with his soon-to-be undead daughter as possible before he has to face the unthinkable.
You can see why Maggie was featured on the Black List, because its premise is rather ingenious. John Scott 3 obviously wanted to slow down the zombie genre, and rather than revolving around action sequences, gore and scares, he pined to take an intimate look at the relationship between two loved ones, one of whom will soon be a zombie. Unfortunately, though, not only does the film decelerate to the point of stagnation, but it does so to such an exacerbating extent that it underwrites all of the good will that it has built up in its opening half.
Hobson, who is well versed in the world of zombies having directed The Walking Dead’s title sequence, does a sterling job establishing Maggie’s world. His Midwest setting is stark, eternally gritty, and bathed in melancholy, while special praise needs to go to cinematographer Lukas Ettlin for finding the right balance of darkness without going over the edge. However, once the film begins to run low on narrative momentum, Hobson is unable to re-generate interest and Maggie lamely crawls to its stale conclusion.
Maggie's saving grace comes in the shape of its actors, though. Despite the sparse dialogue between the pair, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin build up a strong connection just through their looks and body language and you begin to truly invest in their relationship. As usual the smartly cast Schwarzenegger struggles to deliver weighty lines but he more than makes up for that with a strong yet vulnerable performance that depicts the war-torn Wade as battered and hurting, while Breslin is just as magnificent as the resolute, sweet but confused titular character and Joely Richardson excels in her brief supporting role, superbly adding tension and conflict to the already strained situation.
But as Maggie builds and builds, you find yourself waiting for it to kick into a gear that never arrives, and it ultimately disintegrates into a mesh of missed opportunities and repetitive scenarios that prove to be so frustrating you feel like yelling at the screen, ‘Just get on with it!!!" And while it’s true that Maggie is an original take on the zombie apocalypse genre, it’s one that could have done with borrowing a few traits from its peers. Because without them it simply ends up being lifeless.