Looking at the DVD cover, I was prepared to mock this film mercilessly, but it turns out that Dead Heist is the opposite of those direct-to-video dregs that spend three-quarters of their budget on snazzy cover art in order to suck you in and waste two hours of your life, offending you sensibilities and making you question humanity as a whole: WHY, GOD, WHY DID I RENT THIS HERETICAL ABERRATION OF NATURE?!?! Instead, Dead Heist slaps together Photoshop artwork but releases a surprisingly engaging product. (Granted, the title could use some work; I’d vote for Freaks Come Out at Night.)
D.J. Naylor, sporting the build and ambiguous racial identity of Vin Diesel, stars as Jackson, a bodyguard for Bone Crusher (played by, um, Bone Crusher), who’s weary of “the game” but has to pull the ever-elusive “one last job” for bossman Hustle (E-40, pushing the portly rapper quotient dangerously close to Urban Menace territory). The “job” is to oversee the robbery of a small-town bank by a quartet of punk kids: Malcolm (Dominic Santana), Bone (Chris Bailey), Trey (Michael Braxton), and the gang’s hothead leader Ski (Brandon Hardin), whose brilliant plan of action is “We go in, we go out.” What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for one thing, they’re flippin’ idiots. For another, they’ve chosen the night when a horde of genetically altered zombie/vampire-type beasties happen to be running through town. The good news for the robbers is that they’re no longer barricaded inside the bank with a bunch of cops outside. The bad news is that they’re now barricaded inside the bank with a bunch of genetically altered zombie/vampire-type beasties outside.
But have no fear, Big Daddy Kane is here! Still struggling to live down his appearance in Madonna’s Sex book, BDK — who remains nameless in the film — swoops in as an ex-military official who worked on the experiment that created the monsters. It seems that the government was trying to create artificial blood but ended up turning the test subjects into…things who travel in packs like zombies but only come out at night like vampires and can only be killed by a bullet through the heart, like Abraham Lincoln. They’re sort of like 28 Days Later zombies: all pissed-off and runny.
So, it’s up to the bank robbers and the bank hostages, including a female cop named Kate (credited as T-Love) to team up and fight for their lives. Luckily, the irritating punk kids aren’t the heroes, so they don’t have to survive. Naylor, meanwhile, displays a likable confidence as the star, even if his girlish Mike Tyson voice and engorged nipples prove distracting. And Big Daddy Kane is surprisingly effective; easily his best work since, um…Posse? In fact, the whole cast does a fine job in a production that’s a cut above typical DTV horror and miles above typical “urban” DTV horror.
The direction, story, make-up, and setting (an actual bank and not the assistant director’s apartment) are all solid. There’s even enough of a budget for a respectable throng of zombies (easily 100-plus). Dead Heist could’ve had a few more plot twists — particularly with a running time of less than 80 minutes — but as anyone who’s suffered through a glut of other do-it-yourself zombie fare can attest, it’s better to leave ’em wanting more than pleading for less.