Already a familiar-enough conceit to have earned its own subgenre nickname (zom-com), the zombie comedy gets a frisky yet strangely familiar workout in "Fido." This tale of a boy and his zombie is brightly packaged and steadily amusing, even if the script never really develops. Lionsgate pickup in the U.S. will probably post modest returns as a would-be cult pic that's not quite as edgy as it thinks it is.

Already a familiar-enough conceit to have earned its own subgenre nickname (zom-com), the zombie comedy gets a frisky yet strangely familiar workout in “Fido.” Set in a retro future where the radiation-produced cannibal undead have forced the normal folks into heavily fortified Eisenhower-era bomb shelters, this Canadian-produced tale of a boy and his dog — well, his collared, leashed, “tamed” zombie best friend — is brightly packaged and steadily amusing, even if the script never really develops anything interesting from its high-concept premise. Lionsgate pickup in the U.S. will probably post modest returns as a would-be cult pic that’s not quite as edgy as it thinks it is.

Sending up 1950s social archetypes to nail conformity, conservativism and the ever-dysfunctional family is well-trod terrain, whether used for whimsy (“Pleasantville”) or black-comedy horror (Bob Balaban’s far more raw “Parents”). If “Fido” ultimately lacks the oomph to push the idea in any really fresh directions, it nonetheless does provide colorful diversion milking the basic contrast between wholesome setting and incongruously dark elements.

Ashy-blue-skinned zombies haul trash, mow lawns and do any other grunt work that needs to be done in picture-perfect Willard, as they’ve done since the Zombie Wars of a generation prior, the history of which is told via a B&W classroom instructional film (taken from helmer Andrew Currie’s own 1996 short “Night of the Living”).

Communities now live under the protection of a corporation called ZomCon, which maintains the electrified fences keeping the wild zombies out. Domesticated zombies have replaced the low-income illegal immigrant laborers of yore, and they wear a collar that keeps them from eating their masters.

Juvenile protag Timmy Robinson (the unfortunately named K’Sun Ray) is the friendless odd boy out in his ultra-conformist classroom and neighborhood, picked on by bullies, ignored by his dad (Dylan Baker as Bill) and gently chided by a mom (Carrie-Anne Moss as Helen) who’s channeled her marital frustrations into keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.

Unable to live any longer with the shame of having no zombie servants, Helen acquires one (Billy Connolly). While he gets off to a clumsy start as a housekeeper, the zombie soon proves a boy’s best friend — he’s aces as a loyal pal capable of playing fetch and snarling at enemies — and thus is named Fido by Timmy.

Unfortunately, Fido’s collar goes on the fritz briefly, resulting in the demise — and subsequent revival — of the lane’s least beloved old biddy. Timmy is able to cover this up, albeit only after a mini-plague of flesh eating erupts. Meanwhile, Mr. Robinson grows increasingly uncomfortable with having Fido around the house, especially since the creature — who even when his collar fails bloodlusts only for those he doesn’t like — seems to be showing up Mr. Robinson’s failings as husband and father.

Script penned by Currie, Robert Chomiak and Dennis Heaton (from Heaton’s original story) has been in rewrites for some 13 years and feels perhaps too smoothed out in the long march to production (as British Columbia’s biggest-budgeted indie feature, purportedly).

There are amusing situations and characters, but they never develop past first impression, let alone take flight into inspired loopiness or bad-taste hilarity a la “Shaun of the Dead.”

For all the pic’s surface novelty, its various macabre, satirical and family-drama aspects as directed by Currie (“Mile Zero”) co-habit harmlessly rather than jostling one another to disturbing, inventive or laugh-out-loud effect.

Perfs are decent within their limits (though Moss doesn’t seem to have an instinct for the kind of low-key camp required), and design contributors have fun whipping up a widescreen milieu of apple-pie affluence along withmodest gore. Don Macdonald’s original score strikes the right kitschy yet deadpan note.

A pleasant watch that evaporates quickly from the memory, “Fido” is something perhaps no movie involving cannibalism should be: cute but kinda bland.

Fido

Canada

Production

A Lionsgate release of a TVA Films presentation of an Anagram Pictures production in association with Telefilm Canada. Produced by Blake Corbet, Mary Anne Waterhouse. Executive producers, Peter Block, Jason Constantine, Patrick Cassavetti, Shelley Gillen, Daniel Iron. Co-producers, Trent Carlson, Kevin Eastwood, Heidi Levitt. Directed by Andrew Currie. Screenplay, Robert Chomiak, Currie, Dennis Heaton, from an original story by Heaton.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, Jan Kiesser; editor, Roger Mattiussi; original music, Don Macdonald; production designer, Rob Gray; costumes, Mary E. McLeod; art director, Michael Norman Wong; set decorator, James Willcock; prosthetic makeup FX, Todd Masters; VFX supervisor, James Tichenor; sound designers (Dolby Digital), Devan Kraushar, Kris Fenske; music supervisor, Sarah Webster; second unit director, Trent Carlson; assistant directors, Paul Etherington, Steve Eathorne; casting, Heidi Levitt, Lynne Carrow. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Canada First!), Sept. 8, 2006. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Helen - Carrie-Anne Moss Fido - Billy Connolly Bill - Dylan Baker Timmy - K'Sun Ray Mr. Bottoms - Henry Czerny Mr. Theopolis - Tim Blake Nelson
With: Sonja Bennett, Jennifer Clement, Rob LaBelle, Aaron Brown, Brandon Olds, Alexia Fast.

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