Review: “Zombieland”

zombielandgroceryMatter up! (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and friend)

5 years after Shaun of the Dead injected new life (or, at least, undeath) into a flagging genre, the zom-rom-com has finally made its way to Hollywood, backed by big names (Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray), big effects and big letters all over the screen. (We’ll get to that last part later.)

Luckily, the goofy, splattery spirit of Shaun survived the journey overseas. And while it might not have the balance and heart of its clear inspiration, Zombieland is a trip through the post-apocalyptic, fleash-eating landscape that’s just as much breezy, brainless fun as one of the rollercoasters that mark its horizon.

(Note: There is a mild spoiler that reveals the identity of the “celebrity cameo” in the movie in the below review. Proceed at your own risk!)

zombielandjesseJesse Eisenberg

Borrowing heavily from the Zombie Survival Guide, Zombieland tells the story of four lone human survivors of a zombie holocaust (sparked by a bad gas-station hamburger) who are able to cobble a makeshift family from the wreckage of civilization.

Okay, maybe that’s taking it a bit far, since it’s really about four people dispatching moaning munchers in funny – and at times very gory – ways. None of the characters share their names (too personal in this landscape, so they opt against it), so they go by nicknames of American cities.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has survived this long because he’s a Type-A mess whose OCD tendencies have led him to devise a set of rules that he won’t break. (Much of the first part of the film is made up of hilariously gory demonstrations of these rules – which range from “Buckle Up” to “Avoid Bathrooms” – either working or being broken.)

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is a loner who has found a late-life talent for killing zombies and whose sad past holds the key to his reluctance to get close to anyone. He’s also obsessed with finding the last remaining Twinkie on Earth and talks like one might imagine Matthew McCaunaghey speaks when he’s NOT in a zombie action comedy.

zombielandhummerThe Hummer

After Columbus and Tallahassee reluctantly join forces, they meet up with sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abagail Breslin), who value their loyalty to one another above all else. When the sisters derail the fellas’ plans to head East, the gang finds itself barreling toward the Pacific Playland amusement park, which they have heard is a zombie-free zone.

Zombie purists, take note: While the moaners in this one are wonderfully oozy and pretty ghoulish munchers, they’re really not the main course here. While Shaun of the Dead danced the line between comedy and horror with agility, Zombieland crashes right over the line into comedy territory in a tricked-out Hummer, guns blazing. The undead are never really a tangible threat here and serve the purpose that the actors in the Saw movies do: They’re here to get splatted.

zombielandclownOkay, maybe clowns ARE scary.

Fortunately, Zombieland doesn’t shy away from the blood and guts, and the flick is wonderfully gooey. Employing scads of super-slo-mo, first-time feature director Ruben Fleischer injects the action with a buoyant visual style and plenty of sick sight gags to keep things light. When the foursome finds themselves in the Hollywood mansion of Bill Murray, watching Ghostbusters in his private screening room, it’s more than appropriate: Like in Busters, the scares are merely setups for the laughs. (Murray also gets the funniest single word of dialog in the movie, and it’s the name of a certain fat cartoon cat.)

Eisenberg is his usual, fidgety self (after Adventureland and Zombieland, is there a third -land to complete the trilogy?), and Harrelson delivers just what you expect … although I am a bit ashamed to say that the most lasting image of the film for me was of Woody gleefully serving pancakes with syrup to a puppy. Breslin doesn’t have much to do, really, and besides is outshined by the pretty awesome Stone (The House Bunny), who brings my favorite flavor of sardonic, husky-voiced Final Girlness to the table.

zombielandwoodyWoody material?

It’s fair to say that Zombieland is Hollywood’s version of the truly classic Shaun of the Dead, but in the end that’s not a bad thing. Like the elusive Twinkie at its core, it’s a lightweight, sugar-filled, and irresistible treat.



Zombieland opens nationwide today and is rated R for head-blows, guts and some F-bombs. It’s also pretty short and sweet.

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