Fantastic Fest 09: Zombieland Review
This highly entertaining zombie comedy offers plenty of laughs and scares.
by Jim Vejvoda
September 25, 2009 - The world, as we know it, is over. Zombies have won and humans, what few that remain, must constantly stay on the run if they are to survive. A small band of survivors -- all of whom have lost those dearest to them -- must overcome their differences as they embark on a dangerous journey across a ravaged American landscape. Sounds like a heavy post-apocalyptic drama or a Resident Evil-style shoot 'em-up, right? Well, forget it, Jake. It's Zombieland.
While making his way alone down a highway strewn with car wrecks, a young coward (Jesse Eisenberg) who survived the zombie apocalypse because of his strict adherence to a set of rules -- such as "don't be a hero" and "buckle up" -- encounters a badass Southerner (Woody Harrelson) with an arsenal and an attitude made for zombie killin'. The badass insists that neither of them call each other by their real names so that they don't get too close or friendly; after all, life is short for humans in Zombieland (as they now refer to Earth). They call themselves by their hometowns instead: the badass is Tallahassee and the kid is Columbus.
Tallahassee agrees to give Columbus a ride so that he can locate his estranged family. Tallahassee, though, is a loner, a man with a tragic past. All he longs for now is a Twinkie, one last yummy reminder of the good old days. Along the way, these two unlikely cohorts meet up with a pair of young grifter sisters -- Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) -- who continually outwit them. Begrudgingly joining forces, this motley crew sets out for the land where fantasies once came true: Los Angeles.
Check out the trailer to Zombieland.
While Shaun of the Dead will probably always rank as the greatest zombie comedy of all time, Zombieland certainly deserves a spot high up on that not very long list. Equal parts action, horror and comedy, Zombieland is one helluva funny (and fun) movie that suggests big things are ahead for director Ruben Fleischer (who never directed a film of this scope before). The movie finds just the right balance of thrills, scares, and laughs, and no element feels shoe-horned in at the expense of the other.
Unlike Jennifer's Body -- which didn't know whether it was a comedy with horror in it or a horror movie with comedy -- Zombieland is definitely a comedy with horror in it. The zombies aren't necessarily played for laughs; there are some genuine (albeit sometimes stock) shocks that convince you these characters are in grave danger. The humor stems from the heroes' behavior during these dire moments: Columbus' cowardice and OCD, Tallahassee's fearlessness and tactlessness, Wichita and Little Rock's guile. While the script wisely gives each of them enough background to generate some pathos, they are ultimately more types than fully formed characters and are likable more because of the actors playing them than because of the depth of the script.
Harrelson's Tallahassee is not only reminiscent of his character Mickey Knox from Natural Born Killers, but also Evil Dead's Ash Williams. There are even times where he seems like a redneck Crocodile Dundee. He has the showiest role in the movie, and Harrelson clearly relishes it. Eisenberg shines as a sort of classic Woody Allen nebbish (a very Michael Cera-esque role, but he has far more range than Cera). Stone is fine as the straight man to the more outlandish antics of the male leads, and Breslin's work indicates she should survive the adolescent career phase that does in so many other child actors. She's a mature kid here, but thankfully not too precocious.
Zombieland lags a bit near the end of Act Two while the characters take refuge in a seemingly abandoned L.A. mansion (following the film's biggest and most pleasant surprise), but otherwise the movie clips along at a brisk pace and offers filmgoers plenty of humor and horror for their buck. It will also leave 'em jonesing for a Twinkie.