Arnold Schwarzenegger? Zombies? That sounds like cheesy, bloody, low-rent good times, so praise the movie gods and pass the buttered popcorn, right? It turns out that the Schwarzenegger vs. flesh-eaters smackdown flick Maggie is a different sort of beast altogether. The tiny budgeted directorial debut feature for (movie title sequence creator) Henry Hobson casts Schwarzenegger as an American heartland farmer dad who tracks down his missing daughter (Abigail Breslin) in a city shelter for the lost souls bitten during a widespread outbreak of the “necroambulist virus” infection.

Despite strict rules and regulations, the overworked hospital officials let her go under her father’s supervision. But whether or not they’re supported or abandoned by their families, bite victims face a grim future — six to eight weeks, or less, before the inevitable “turn,” at which point they’re shoved into quarantine areas where they’re left to die, or injected with a cocktail that will kill them painfully, or are much more quickly euthanized by their loved ones. Comparisons with AIDS and other life-threatening diseases abound. That’s pretty much the dilemma facing Arnie’s grieving character who takes Breslin to live out her days with him and her icy, cautious stepmother (Joely Richardson), who protectively sends off her own young kids to live with relatives while she and her husband await Breslin’s imminent zombie-ism.

Even in the era of The Walking Dead, Maggie has the seeds of an interesting, intimate study of mercy killing. But as would be genre-benders go, this one, as directed by Hobson from a script by first-timer John Scott 3, is stingy on flesh-eating action and long on morose looks, rumbling thunder, walks through barren fields and a greeting card-worthy sense of reality. Maggie is meant to be a tight, claustrophobic three-hander — with Schwarzennegger, Breslin, and Richardson acting their brains out — but that requires the Terminator to speak actual dialogue and squeeze out a tear. Although clearly neither comes easily or naturally, after decades in front of the camera, Schwarzenneger at least delivers a modestly credible performance. Holding up her end, Breslin does a lot of crying as her flesh rots, her eyes go milky and she fades away. She gets one interesting, touching scene in which she has a last night out with old school friends, one of whom is already ‘turning.’ But nothing in Maggie connects or coheres. Still, there’s talent here amidst all the missed opportunities and it could be interesting to see what might come next from Maggie’s writer and director. **½