Tuesday, March 16, 2010
In the same vein of Shaun of the Dead, 2009's Zombieland has some fun with the zombie movie. First-time director Ruben Fleischer puts his own spin on the genre with a comedy that is surprisingly smart while leaving most of the slapstick out. Of course, there are countless zombies to be shot, stabbed, beaten and run over so it's not exactly high class humor. It's the type of small-scale comedy that is almost completely self-contained where characters aren't addressed by names, but by the location they're trying to get to in a zombie-ridden U.S.
It's been several months since a man ate a contaminated hamburger that started a huge chain reaction of people turning into zombies. Very few humans are left, but one of them, a college student, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), is trying to make it back to his home in Ohio to see his parents who he's not even sure are still alive. Columbus has developed a detailed list of rules that have helped him survive on his own, but nothing can really prepare him for when he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) on the road. His new road-trip buddy is a bit of an eccentric. They meet two sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone of Superbad) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine), and join them as they try to get to Pacific Playland, an amusement park supposedly free of the zombies.
When it comes to humor, I'm not saying this is straight laced or subtle, but most of the time it doesn't go for easy laughs...well, other than all the zombie killing. It's more of a road movie with this eclectic group of people traveling across a post-apocalyptic America. Ha, bet you didn't think you'd get something like that dropped on your head reading a Zombieland review, did you? As Fleischer brings up on the DVD, it's only a couple months since the virus started so there aren't a ton of zombies yet. Most of them are saved for the finale, but more on that later. It's a funny movie in a way that I didn't think it would be. Part of the laughs do come from the ridiculousness of the situation -- it'd be hard not to laugh -- but it can be a surprisingly sweet comedy at times too.
Sometimes, a movie just gets the casting right. With just four main characters, Zombieland goes 4-for-4 at the casting plate. Eisenberg does what he does best, awkward, subtle humor, but he does get a chance to do some physical humor and pulls it off well. His narration is hilarious, including his ever-growing list of "How to Survive the Zombies" list that advises you on what to do and what not to do. Watch the movie's opening with Columbus' rules HERE. Emma Stone is femme fatale Wichita, a really smart, really hot girl trying to protect herself and her sister. Columbus of course falls hard for her because let's face it, there aren't too many girls left. Breslin continues to expand her horizons and is really funny as a 12-year old forced to grow up pretty quickly.
This ensemble works together about as well as can be expected, but the glue here is Harrelson's Tallahassee, a gun-toting, Nascar-loving, smart ass redneck who loves nothing more than killing zombies and a good Twinkie (it's never explained and it's funnier because of it). He has an emotional scene describing why he loves killing zombies that could have been out of place in this story, but it works. Tallahassee is the great breakout character here, providing the movie's funniest lines. And really, it's great to see Harrelson in these mainstream movies again. One more cast member who should be nominated for best cameo ever is Bill Murray playing Bill Murray. He's onscreen for about 4 minutes and steals each one of those minutes.
This one definitely surprised me in how much I liked it. I figured I'd enjoy it, but not this much. Really funny, very quotable, and lots of gratuitous zombie killing, especially in the end as an army of zombies descend on the fab four. The four main cast members all have different styles, but those styles click together. The best news to come out of this 2009 sleeper hit is that a sequel is in the works. I can't wait to see where they go with these characters and story.
Zombieland <----(2009): ***/****