Directed by George A Romero, starring Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy and Eugene Clark.

Since he made 'Day of the Dead' in 1985, director George A Romero must at times have sat back and thought about the fate of the monsters he created. In the 20 years between that film and this one, Romero's zombies have taken their place in popular culture through countless video games and post-apocalyptic box office hits like '28 Days Later', 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Dawn of the Dead' - itself a below-par remake of Romero's own 1978 film.

Romero himself, meanwhile, never got the level of success he deserved. He redefined and gave horror a new edge with a black hero and racial issues in 1968's 'Night of the Living Dead' and followed it up with commentaries on consumerism and the military complex in 'Dawn of the Dead' and 'Day of the Dead' respectively. But while he was saluted by countless filmmakers and was at one stage attached to the big screen version of the game 'Resident Evil' - itself owing much to his work - the mainstream breakthrough eluded him.

So that news that Romero was to once again bring his dead back to life and would have his biggest budget yet (an estimated $18m) to do it with made his fans giddy with anticipation and sounded like a case of justice done. Sadly, 'Land of the Dead' is a huge disappointment and just doesn't 'live' up to the quality of the three films which preceded it.

Civilisation is now confined to just a few heavily-fortified cities, where the rich are still rich and the poor don't get a look-in. In one particular city work Riley (Baker) and Cholo (Leguizamo), mercenaries who risk death venturing into zombie-infested towns so that they can get essential supplies - and luxuries for the wealthy residents of skyscraper Fiddler's Green. Riley dreams of escaping the city and taking his chances in the wild, while the hot-headed Cholo reckons he has enough money and has earned enough brownie points to be granted residence in Fiddler's Green by the city's overlord Kaufman (Hopper).

But Cholo's delusions of adequacy prove short-lived when Kaufman explains that Fiddler's Green is not for him. Incensed, Cholo steals the city's heavily armoured supply vehicle, Dead Reckoning, and issues Kaufman with a ransom demand. Needing the vehicle to hold on to power, Kaufman sends Riley to get it back. And in the meantime the zombies, led by 'Big Daddy' (Clark), are getting smarter and turning their attention towards the city...

Relying too much on his previous films, it's hard not to come away from Romero's latest wondering if he should've let his dead rest in peace. Described on the posters as a "horror masterpiece", 'Land of the Dead' feels rushed, at 93 minutes is too short and also lacks a strong enough lead actor in Baker - Leguizamo fares far better and perhaps the roles should've been switched.

The zombies look great and the sets are excellent but of the four films, this is Romero's weakest. Once again social and political themes - rich against poor, terrorism - aren't far from the surface, but what's on top of them is a second-rate action movie. 'Dawn of the Dead' had a running time of over two hours - in some cuts two-and-a-half - and 'Day of the Dead' benefited from having its protagonists in an underground bunker, setting this film in a city and its environs takes away much of the claustrophobia and characters get 'lost'.

Perhaps the DVD will offer some solace in the form of more scenes and countless extras because, diehards aside, there's no need to rush to see 'Land of the Dead' on the big screen. Is it being too optimistic to wonder if Romero could make amends with a sequel?

Harry Guerin