Hello, and welcome to another installment of "I Saw This Movie So You Don't Have To!" Yes, "I Tilled Your Garden So You Don't Have To" probably would have been much more helpful, but I figured I'd take one for the team and bear witness to the dull zombie drama "Maggie," Arnold Schwarzenegger's crack at being a real thespian. We've encountered this phenomenon before, where creaky action heroes make a play for indie cred (thinking of Stallone in 1997's "Cop Land" or Van Damme in 2008's "JCVD"), and usually no one embarrasses themselves too badly. But once the novelty of manly vulnerability wears off, the question is whether the person can truly act, and in Schwarzenegger's case the answer may surprise you.
Just kidding! The answer is no. But for "Maggie" the former governor of California does give it the ol' college try as Wade, a reticent Midwestern farmer who we're first introduced to as he drives through a devastated landscape. The radio broadcast in his ratty truck clues us in to a "necroambulist virus outbreak," and we soon meet one of its latest victims, Wade's teenaged daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin, a long way from "Little Miss Sunshine"). Sciencey details explain how Maggie has several weeks to live before what's euphemistically described as "the turn." (The Z-word is never used.) That timetable allows the film to explore the shared journey of Wade and Maggie coming to terms with her impending death, including his efforts to prolong their time together whenever anyone comes around with talk of quarantine.
The undead are typically a metaphor for things like herd mentality, virus hysteria, and terminal illness, but in light of the cultural juggernaut that is "The Walking Dead," it's nearly impossible at this point to say anything new about the victims, or more accurately, the survivors. "Maggie" even kind of looks like a desaturated knockoff of "Walking Dead" season 2 at Hershel's farm, with Malick-ish vistas and walkers -- I mean zombies -- sorry; necroambulists -- trapped in locked rooms or lurching out of the woods. What's odd is that first-time director Henry Hobson had to know he was going over well-trodden ground; as a title designer, he worked on a few episodes of "The Walking Dead." But Hobson does refrain from major gore, opting mostly to fill the spaces between debut screenwriter John Scott 3's bare-bones dialogue with leisurely scenes of people looking sad, scared, concerned, or confused.
That last state of being actually plays to Schwarzenegger's strengths; he doesn't seem quite sure what to do during the quieter moments besides furrow his brow and attempt emotion. The once and future Terminator at least looks believably worn out, with the creases of a man closing in on 70 and a scraggly gray beard that distractingly does not match his suspiciously dark hair. And even though she gets off to a rocky start leaning too heavily on sullen teen, it's not shocking that "Maggie" is mostly Breslin's movie. There's no mystery about what will ultimately happen, but Breslin manages to infuse situations with a hint of unpredictability as her taste for human flesh grows. Schwarzenegger's no match for her, though, unable to chew even the scenery.