Overlord feels like a homework assignment about World War II written by Michael Scott from The Office. Historical accuracy makes a French surrender to mad-scientist hijinks and war-movie cliches. If the marketing team had the chutzpah, they’d have billed this as a straightforward “trapped behind enemy lines” flick and let the sci-fi madness of the third act slap viewers in the face as a wacky twist. Instead, trailers banned all cow sales and passed out free milk, talk-blocking Overlord’s potential word-of-mouth and leaving it an only-pretty-good genre-straddler.
We meet our innocent-but-soon-to-be-brain-covered hero, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), about to parachute out of a plane over France the day prior to the D-Day invasion. If the boys aboard don’t blow up a radio tower that can’t be blown up by dropping bombs on it from the air for some inexplicable reason, the troops on the beach won’t get Allied air support for another, equally inexplicable reason. Only a handful of the squad survive the descent into the Nazi-occupied French village.
As is wont to happen in all war movies, soldiers other than our hero are reduced to stereotypes. The film splits “The Jewish One” and “The New York One” into two separate characters, which is the kind of groundbreaking innovation you can only get from the guy who wrote 1997’s Tommy Lee Jones v Anne Heche v magma epic, Volcano. With the help of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a random French villager who looks like a pop star, Boyce and the boys must defeat the evil Nazi commander, Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), and blow up the radio outpost. Oh, and in the basement of the radio outpost is Satan’s laboratory, where they are turning the dead into super-strong zombies.
Things about Overlord that are surprisingly good: Adepo is wildly charismatic, and Ollivier is demonstrably overtalented for her thankless role. Also, the film’s last half-hour is borderline spectacular, with a pitch-perfect combination of practical-effect gore and schlocky heroism. Has a gritty, the-mission-comes-first soldier ever pulled himself off of a disemboweling hook to “finish the job” before? Didn’t think so. That’s the kind of groundbreaking innovation you can only get from a guy who created a TV show about finding another Earth and called it Earth 2.
Things about Overlord that aren’t so good: The pacing and pretty much anything any character says with their mouths. Several times, good guys are set up to deliver crowd-pleasing one-liners that just never come. I’m not saying writer Billy Ray had some kind of quip impotence, I’m just saying this is the kind of groundbreaking innovation you can only get from the guy who wrote the upcoming third attempt at rebooting Terminator.
Overlord is almost something special, with its manic depravity and Nazi-stomping speculative-fiction escapism. Had it been positioned slightly differently and finessed to maximize its weirdness, it could have been a From Dusk till Dawn bit of inspired horror-hued tonal mashup.
Grade = B-