[REVIEW] ‘WITNESS INFECTION’ SERVES UP A FRESH DISH FROM CINEMATIC LEFTOVERS

Director: Andy Palmer
Writers: Carlos Alazraqui, Jill-Michele Melean (as Jill-Michele Meleán)
Starring: Robert Belushi, Jill-Michele Melean, Vince Donvito, Errin Hayes, Bret Ernst, Monique Coleman

“Always leave one in the head!”

“It smells like death in here.”

Witness Infection (2021) is like a delicious repast made from leftovers. While the ingredients are familiar, mobster movies, rom-coms, zombie invasion films, they mix into a unique dish. Occasionally the meal devolves into an overcooked, tasteless mess by relying on overused stereotypes. Still, this liberally spiced gangster-zombie-romcom is saved by a quick-witted, funny script and over-the-top gore. There are plenty of laughs, thrills, and even a little pathos to balance it all out. Some viewers may be left hungry for more substance. Overall, it is a fun meal to feast on. 

When Clemenza schools Michael on the art of cooking for 20 in The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola forever linked together Italian families and food in cinema. Director Andy Palmer and co-writers Carlos Alazraqui and Jill-Michele Melean continue that tradition with a skilled cast of veteran comedy actors to create a movie about food, family, and the intestines that tie them together.

Mrs. Miola (Paula Cale)

“Is this right, or did I just wake up in Game of Thrones?”

The story of rival gangs competing against each other in the same town goes back nearly a hundred years to Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Red Harvest. That book inspired many critically acclaimed movies such as Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Sergio Leone’s A Fist Full of Dollars, and recently, the Walter Hill gangster film, Last Man StandingWitness Infection doesn’t aim for such lofty accolades. Filmmaker Andy Palmer stated his goal was to “do for eating sausages from a questionable looking food truck what Jaws did for swimming.”

The story’s rival mob families, transplanted to the same city by Witness Protection, face mutual assured destruction unless they find a way to coexist peacefully. Their somewhat archaic solution is to join the families by an arranged marriage between a reluctant Carlo Serrelli (Robert Belushi) and Patricia Miola (Errin Hayes). Carlo is torn between staying faithful to his partner and girlfriend, Gina (Jill-Michele Melean), and his duty to save his family from the upcoming mob war if he does not go through with the wedding. The night of the engagement announcement coincides with the arrival of a food truck selling tainted sausages that turns its customers into flesh-eating zombies. Carlo quickly discovers he has more pressing dangers than surviving his in-laws. Chaos ensues.

The tainted sausage

 “I refuse to be the token death of this story!”

This dish of leftover salsiccia e peperoni offers plenty of good stuff to enjoy, especially for gourmands of the type of movie Witness Infection roasts. There are great action scenes, a very well fleshed out group of characters, and a script that carefully walks the fine line of being funny without being too meta. 

One special highlight is when Carlo, Gina, and Vince seek shelter in a bar and encounter  Rose (Monique Coleman). As the sole black character, she delivers probably the best summary of African-American inclusion and representation in horror movies while casually dispatching zombies over her shoulder. Her allusion-filled monologue simultaneously declares an end to the magic negro trope and honors the actors whose characters didn’t make it to the end of the story.

Rose (Monique Coleman)

“And I also may or not have been involved in a hit and run.”

Despite all the good things, there are a few hints of stale and sour the dish tastes. The film loses a lot of momentum during the extended period(s) when Carlo, Gina, and their cinema-loving friend Vince (Vince Donvito) drive through the night. Their confessions to each other are treacly, unfunny filler to pad out its 81-minute running time.

Even more troubling is the off-color and grossly stereotypical representation of Italian Americans and foul treatment of the female characters to generate cheap laughs. The tracksuit and gold chain sporting mafiosos and junior hoodlums have less in common with the urban and erudite hoods from The Sopranos than the inarticulate, oozing zombies they turn into. Carlo’s brother Dominic (Bret Ernst) delivers the most low-brow offensive lines. His liberal use of pejorative terms for female anatomy strikes an unduly harsh note. This might not be offensive to some, but it does not make the film any funnier. 

Vince (Vince Donvito), Carlo (Robert Belushi), and Gina (Jill-Michele Melean)

“This, my friend, is New Jersey’s finest Italian sausage.”

The makers of Witness Protection show real love to sources the films it skewers. While it doesn’t quite achieve the fear of food trucks filmmaker Andy Palmer aimed for, it is still a fun ride into questionable gastronomic fields. For what could have easily been written off as another gross-out, and it is a gross, horror-comedy about zombies and gangsters, this movie has a lot of heart. Co-writers Carlos Alazraqui and Jill-Michele Melean went to great pains to create credible characters for an entertaining and amusing story to keep the audience engaged between the gags and gross-outs. 

The bottom line –Witness Protection made me laugh and care about the characters to stay engaged to the end. 

Before being released on VOD March 30, Witness Infection screened in many horror and comedy festivals worldwide. It won several awards, including Best Feature at HorrorHound and the Die Laughing Film Festival, Best Director at Die Laughing and the Frostbite Film Festival, and the Audience Choice Envy Award at the Sin Film Festival.

It is now streaming on multiple platforms.

WITNESS INFECTION

0.00
8.1

DECAPITATION BY TOILET SEAT

10.0/10

GRATUTIOUS SAUSAGE FEST

8.0/10

MULTI-CULTURAL SENSITIVITY

6.0/10

SOLID CHARACTERS AND STORY

8.0/10

LAUGH OUT LOUD FUNNY

8.5/10

Pros

  • MADE ME LAUGH!
  • GREAT "BITE" EFFECTS
  • PLENTY OF ACTION
  • GROSS AS FUCK OOZING SORES OUT THE WAZOO

Cons

  • REPRESENTATIONAL INCLUSIVITY WAS ON THE STEREOTYPICAL END
  • DOESN'T QUITE DO FOR FOOD TRUCKS WHAT JAWS DID FOR BEACHES
  • GINA AND CARLO'S CHEMISTRY SEEMS FORCED AT TIMES