Trying to be bad is harder than it looks. After stumbling into a hit with the social-media-driven “Sharknado,” Syfy and the Asylum have sought to conjure another dreadful mash-up with “Dead 7,” featuring Nick Carter and fellow boy-band alumni in a post-apocalyptic tale of gunslingers against zombies. While the whole disheveled exercise should benefit from the oddness of its log line, it’s better (which may be worse) on paper than it is in the actual viewing.
In addition to starring as one of the taciturn heroes, Carter receives producer and story credit on the movie, which was written by Sawyer Perry and directed (well, kind of) by Danny Roew. Said story actually amounts to an amalgamation of familiar tropes, as if someone chewed up synopses to “The Magnificent Seven” and “Beowulf” and then belched them out.
The basic conceit – other than the mere act of uniting members of Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, 98 Degrees and O-Town – is that after a virus decimated humanity, the survivors have settled on a simpler, Western-ish lifestyle. But those little hamlets are terrorized by Apocalypta (“Mad TV’s” Debra Wilson), who controls a zombie army known as Copperheads. (With her shaved head, tattooed face and voodoo-tinged speech pattern, Apocalypta bears an odd resemblance to Geoffrey Holder in “Live and Let Die.”)
Somebody has the bright idea to gather a team to take on Apocalypta, and the group is haphazardly assembled, while being introduced with stylized bits of animation and music seemingly intended to look like outtakes from “Sin City.” The gang includes Carter as Jack, Jeff Timmons as his brother, Carrie Keagan as the woman who has dallied with them both, Joey Fatone as the boozing Whiskey Joe (best line: “They’re everywhere! And I’m running out of whiskey!”) and Erik-Michael Estrada as a sword-wielding samurai type. Carter’s wife, Lauren Kitt-Carter, also gets in on the mayhem as a mysterious warrior.
Being cheap, of course, is ostensibly part of the kick, but even by those standards “Dead 7” sounds like a description of how much was spent on production, with a climactic battle in a “town” that amounts to a couple of shacks. Most of the budget seemingly went into the endless gunning down of Apocalypta’s minions, and honestly, once you’ve seen a few dozen zombie heads blown up at close range, you’ve seen ‘em all.
The same goes for the comedic flourishes, like a bit with a zombie that just won’t die. That’s not to say “Dead 7” is without laughs, but thanks to the performances, they’re mostly of the unintentional variety. As an aside, that extends to the background actors, who somehow manage to make those intrepid souls playing zombies on “The Walking Dead” look like Meryl Streep.
Syfy doesn’t take these exploitation movies too seriously – they’re essentially pit stops en route to other release platforms – and neither should anyone else, including critics. Unlike “Sharknado,” though (at least, for about the first 10 minutes of that movie and its spinoffs), “Dead 7” is a little too earnest, and simply numbing, to be much fun.
Ultimately, the whole thing feels like little more than an excuse to queue up the song, “In the End,” which Carter and company croon over the closing credits. Frankly, it’s a payoff that can’t come soon enough.