Zombieland (2009)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2009-10-04 04:07

Written by: Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin

Reviewed by: Brett G.

"My mother always told me, 'youíll be good at something.' I donít think that she could have guessed that that something would be zombie killin'."

Zombies and comedy have been a winning combination for more than a quarter of a century. Though this particular sub-genre's roots extend as far back to the early 40s with such films as King of the Zombies and Zombies on Broadway, the trend didn't begin in earnest until 1985's Return of the Living Dead, which featured the more modern interpretation of the shambling undead (some might argue that 1981's Burial Ground preceded this, but I'm pretty sure that one was unintentional). In the years since, a number of splatter-filled zombie romps have delighted viewers: Dead Alive, The Evil Dead II, Cemetery Man, and the more recent Shaun of the Dead. Stepping into the shadow of this legacy is the recently released Zombieland, whose trailer makes no bones (or flesh) about what it is: a rip-roaring, gun-toting, zombie-killin' good time at the movies.

Our protagonist and narrator, who refers to himself simply as Columbus (after his hometown) is one of the last survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Living by a set of self-set rules (such as "beware of bathrooms" and "never be a hero") to wade his way though "Zombieland," Columbus is headed back home when he encounters Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a Twinkie-obsessed badass who prides himself on his zombie-killing prowess. During a routine Twinkie run (which includes an encounter with a few overweight zombies), Tallahassee and Columbus meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two conniving sisters who are able to con their way in and out of any situation. After some trust issues between the four are set aside, the quartet sets out for a California amusement park that's supposedly zombie-free; however, the road to this paradise is paved with the undead!

Honestly, this movie had me at "Woody Harrelson vs. Zombies." Over-the-top splatterfests (especially ones featuring zombies) are right up my alley, and I consider Harrelson to be one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Thus, it would have taken a fuck-up of monumental proportions for this one to let me down. That said, Zombieland not only managed to meet these high expectations, but it also managed to completely and utterly exceed them with a hail of gunfire, splattered zombie corpses, and uproarious laughs. I would have been down with 81 minutes of Harrelson wading through a zombie horde, and the film certainly has its share of this, but there's even more here that makes Zombieland work so well: oddball, non sequitur humor, hilarious dialogue, raucous action, and, yes--plenty of zombie corpses getting splattered in every way imaginable.

Make no mistake, the plot is essentially the cinematic equivalent of watching someone play Dead Rising on the X-Box and simply tear through all the zombies with no rhyme or reason. However, this isn't a problem at all, as it's not only immensely fun to see the undead dispatched at every turn, but also because the film manages to be a character-driven affair whose strength is its cast and their chemistry. Yes, in a movie called Zombieland, it's actually the humans who steal the show. Eisenberg essentially plays the same awkward character that we saw earlier this year in Adventureland, but it works well in the context of a zombie apocalypse. There's something oddly likeable about a guy who's never made it to first base but has managed to fend off zombies for so long. Similarly, Emma Stone's character feels very much like Jules from Superbad, and whenever Eisenberg and Stone share the screen, it feels a lot like Superbad meets Zombies, and that's a combination I've got no problem with.

There's not much that needs to be said about Harrelson in this--though he's not truly the protagonist, he's certainly the film's most memorable main character, and he's everything you'd expect him to be: hilarious, badass, and just all-around awesome. And though Tallahassee is generally played in an over-the-top manner, but there are moments where the script gives Harrelson a chance to add a sympathetic dimension to the character that's surprising. In fact, the entire movie has a heart and soul--it's obvious that everyone involved were invested in and loved these characters, from the screenwriters right on down to the actors. Hell, the film even manages to make Little Miss Sunshine herself a heat-packing, zombie-killing badass who has both some fun and emotionally satisfying moments.

That said, the movie is without a doubt one of the funniest films I've seen in quite some time in this or any other genre. The personality clashes that erupt between the four disparate characters are a big source of the comedy; Harrelson and Eisenberg especially play off each other very well, as a badass and a nervous geek make for an odd couple indeed. There's also plenty of zombie-related humor, particularly in the various ways they're dispatched; the film also visually reiterates Columbus's various "zombie survival rules" when appropriate. However, the highest compliment that I can pay Zombieland is that the film works when there's nary a zombie to be found. Every attempt at humor is spot-on, appropriate, well-timed, and the film simply refuses to let up at any point. There's also a show-stealing cameo by a very famous funnyman; I won't spoil it here, but the entire sequence left my sides splitting and featured several references to one of my favorite movies of all time, so it was a personal geek-out moment for me.

Of course, zombies are the title characters here, and they certainly get their due. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and feature various ghoulish appearances, and they certainly get killed in every way imaginable: car doors, hammers, and hedge clippers are just a few of the various tools of the trade. The undead here are of the running variety, which is a trend I've never had a problem with; in fact, it's a boon here because it leads to so many funny moments and adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings. The third act of the film is especially satisfying in this respect, and it'll do for amusement parks what Dawn of the Dead did for shopping malls. I'll certainly never look at them the same way again, as I'll always have visions of a machine-gunning, pistol-toting Woody Harrelson blasting his way through zombies.

All this comedy, drama, and action wrapped up in a visually slick and stylish package that's among the most satisfying cinematic experiences I've ever had. There's no doubt that this is the most entertaining horror film of the year, and, if my theater audience is any indication, this one is an instant cult classic that will also be enjoyed for years to come. I'm not prone to hyperbolic praise when a film is recently released, but I'm already comfortable with placing Zombieland among the great zombie comedy films of all time; at worst, it's at least a worthy successor to all the above-mentioned films. Delivering riotous laughter, great characters, and some great splatter, it hits every mark that it aims for. Everyone should definitely take an immediate trip to Zombieland and plan some return visits in the future. I'd become a permanent resident myself, flesh-eating undead corpses be damned. Buy it!

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