Directed by Ruben Fleischer
It’s been a couple of years since critics started calling the zombie trend dead and yet new films featuring our favourite brain gobbling monsters continue to fill theaters and draw crowds. Subgenres like the zom-rom-com have breathed a little life into things, but the question remains whether there are enough new things to say about our undead friends to warrant so many movies. Ruben Fleischer’s debut feature “Zombieland” doesn’t really answer any of these questions, it’s just a whole hell of a lot of fun.
Jesse Eisenberg is our nameless protagonist, identified only by the name of the city he is trying to get to, Columbus, Ohio. At first glance, Columbus is an unlikely candidate for survivor of a zombie apocalypse, he’s nervous, has IBS and really isn’t good with people, to the point where he describes his own virginity as “fair to speculate on”. He’s the kinda guy who calls Warcraft and a case of Mountain Dew a good Friday night. And yet, it is this same obsessive, antisocial nature that has allowed him to survive as long as he has. That and his list of rules, which he explains in the voice-over that narrates the film. They are also helpfully displayed on the screen as text, in one of the more memorable of the many sight gags in the film.
Although Columbus feels good about his current situation, he uncharacteristically decides to team up with Talahasse (Woody Harelson), a bone fide ass-kicker who picks him up on the sideo of the highway. Their camaraderie is predictably antagonistic, with Columbus cringing at Talahasse’s near-suicidal Twinkie quests and unpredictable capacity for violence and Talahasse threatening Columbus with said violence for his incessant rambling and generally un-macho demeanor. But like any good buddy movie, they grow to enjoy the other’s company and fall into a routine of sorts.
But again, like any good apocalyptic road trip, they’re missing out on the ladies. Luckily they happen upon a couple of sisters in an abandoned supermarket. Wichita (Emma Stone), the older one, is certifiably Maxim hot and roughly Columbus’ age. Her sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) is considerably younger, but capable enough to have survived this long.
While the plot of “Zombieland” is standard enough, sharp writing and some brilliant casting choices manage to distinguish it in the horror-comedy subgenre. While lacking any real scares, the film is full of cultural references and sight gags, although the first third of the film relies rather heavily on poop/puke and barf jokes. This does seem to detract from the clever dialogue, but an inspired celebrity cameo too good to give away at the halfway point quickly puts everything back on track and keeps the film chugging along very nicely right up until the amusement park climax.
While Eisenberg could be called the poor man’s Michael Cera, he somehow manages not to as annoying as his character should be and it is a testament to his natural charm that we are genuinely routing for Columbus by the film’s end. Stone displays the requisite streetsmart hotness to be believable and Breslin continues to show her versatility, something that will probably yield her a healthy adult film career. However, it is Woody Harrelson who really steals the show. For a self-avoid tree-hugging hippie, he sure knows how to play a bad-ass on screen, but he also proves he has real acting chops in a short dramatic scene halfway through the film. A lesser actor could have turned it into another gag, but Harrelson somehow manages be real enough to gain audience sympathy.
Unlike the original Romero flicks, “Zombieland” is an optimistic zombie film, preferring to focus on hope, rather than the ultimate failings of the human condition. Sure, this isn’t anything new either, but to expect the reinvention of the wheel would be missing the point. The point is to leave the theatre with a smile on your face, a goal “Zombieland” accomplishes very nicely.