‘Maggie’ is not the biting family drama it could have been

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin in Maggie (2015)

Maggie (2015)

Directed by Henry Hobson

6/10  PG-13

I was hoping for a “Walking Dead” offseason zombie fix when I went to see “Maggie.” It didn’t quench that thirst. In a society oversaturated with zombie media, “Maggie” takes a new angle on the typical “turning” story. By focusing on the family dynamic of a young, infected girl (Abigail Breslin) and her loving parents (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joely Richardson), “Maggie” attempts to find an emotional depth that others in this subgenre lack—treating the subject as a person with a disease inside, not a disease with a person inside. Ultimately, though, “Maggie” fails to resonate on that deep level. A slow plot and an undeveloped script doomed the movie from early on.

When Maggie (Breslin) is bitten and infected, doctors send her home with strict instructions to her dad, Wade (Schwarzenegger), to take her to quarantine when she reaches the critical “turning” point. But horror stories from the infected say that quarantine is not the caring, curing solution that doctors and cops (like those played by J.D. Evermore and Wayne Pere) are making it out to be. So the infected try at all costs to avoid it. Maggie stepmom, Caroline (Richardson), knows that keeping Maggie around the house as she slowly turns (in several gross, creepy stages) is dangerous. But Wade is standing by her side at all costs to keep his girl safe.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie (2015)

As though filmed through a gray Instagram filter, “Maggie” looks bleak from the start. With a nondescript setting (presumably the not-so-distant future and somewhere near Kansas City), it keeps all of the focus on the family. But unfortunately, the characters are hardly more developed than the setting. Wade is some sort of farmer—or was, before the government told farmers to burn their crops in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. We know very little about Maggie’s birth mother, or her stepmom for that matter. Or even about Maggie herself, besides an apparent boyfriend (Bryce Romero) who makes two brief appearances.

I’ve started a couple of screenplays in the past. They’re not much good. But sometimes, I’ll come across a scene in a movie where I can imagine myself handling the dialogue in the same way the filmmakers do. It’s either a sign that I’m an incredible writer worthy of Hollywood success, or, much more likely, that these screenwriters got lazy and did what an amateur might do. “Maggie” has a few of these scenes. They’re handled so poorly that it makes me think I could do better. Not out of a sense of overconfidence, either. It’s just not that good.

So without much help in the way of character development or dialogue, the movie relies largely on its story…which has its own issues. For too much of the time, a strong score by David Wingo (“Take Shelter,” “Mud”) plays over otherwise quiet scenes of Maggie and her dad trading concerned faces. It takes expressive actors to pull that off, and our two leads aren’t cut out for it. This is Breslin’s own second-best zombie movie, after the hilarious “Zombieland” in 2009. But her peak may have still been as 10-year-old Oliver in “Little Miss Sunshine.” She’s only 18, so she still has time to grow, but right now Breslin isn’t much of a dramatic actress. Schwarzenegger, though he shows some dramatic acting chops I didn’t know he had, doesn’t reach the potential of his character. It takes a strong man to stand by an infected daughter like Wade does. Arnold has the muscles, but not quite the emotional range. And while the story has fleeting moments of suspense that keep it interesting, it’s too often bogged down by dull, lifeless scenes. I checked the time, twice. “Maggie” didn’t do enough to get me invested in the story. It tries too hard to obtain an emotional response and ends up falling short.

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