Since Zombieland combines zombies and comedy, it’s very easy to dismiss it as Shaun Of The Dead-American style. However, that would be unfair. The only things the two films have in common are a wicked sense of humor and hordes of shambling, hungry corpses. Shaun Of The Dead was a romantic comedy with zombies-a rom-com-zom. Zombieland is a coming-of-age buddy comedy with zombies-a com-teen-zom, if you’ll allow me.
Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a very unlikely survivor of the zombie apocalypse. He’s not big and strong, he’s not terribly proficient with firearms, but he has one thing that’s helped him save his own skin: an incredibly neurotic list of rules that have allowed him to flourish in the wasteland that used to be the United States of America. Literally, in every situation, Columbus has a rule, and that’s what’s kept him alive when everyone else around him has dropped undead.
Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is the polar opposite of Columbus. He’s a big, strong, creative zombie-killing machine. Not only does Tallahassee have no special zombie rules, he also doesn’t really obey any of the common rules of the road, like buckling his seatbelt or not drinking and driving. Not that there’s a lot of traffic in Zombieland, but the two could be nothing less alike. I guess that’s why their dysfunctional friendship blossoms.
When the two of them find themselves scammed out of their weapons and vehicle by Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), they band together despite themselves to get their goods back. Along the way, though, the four of them bond. As the last survivors of humanity, it’s only natural to, you know, stick together and at least try to be friends. Their goal is an amusement park, rumored to be one of the last zombie-free places on the planet. Of course, there are twists and turns along the way, and sometimes rules are meant to be broken.
Zombieland is a great, funny comedy that just happens to have zombies. If you’re not entertained by the interplay between Woody Harrelson’s world-weary zombie masher and, well, everyone else in the movie, you’ve got absolutely no sense of humor. The scenes with Harrelson and Eisenberg are particularly good, though there’s a brilliantly funny scene between Harrelson and the preteen Abigail Breslin that was hysterical. Eisenberg is also very good at holding up his end of the movie via narration, which is tougher than it looks.
The relationship between sisters Wichita and Little Rock is also very sweet, and the two girls work well together as a pair, with Stone appropriately tough yet vulnerable in the coming-of-age sweetheart role. Still, this movie is all about Woody, and he’s exceptional.
The script, by reality TV veterans Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is excellent. It’s a synthesis of known movie types (zombie, mismatched buddy, and coming-of-age), but it never feels cliché. The incredibly strong casting really helps in that regard, but the movie is funny when it’s supposed to be funny (in some places, brilliantly funny), gory when it can be gory, and legitimately suspenseful at times. The comedy element is what really made it work for me. Unlike a lot of other attempted horror comedies, this one is pretty evenly funny throughout, even when it revels in its brutality.
Ruben Fleischer, despite having only some TV talk show work and documentary work to his credit, has put together a very well paced, fast movie. For a road movie, it moves pretty quickly from scene to scene, and displays a good sense of timing. There’s never any really dead moments, which is crucial in a shorter movie. I suppose that’s his TV work paying off; talk shows by nature have to move pretty quickly in case a segment falls flat, and Zombieland works much the same way. It moves from set piece to set piece, and hits a whole lot more than it misses.
I had a lot of trepidation going into the theater for Zombieland. Like anyone these days, I was worried that all the good moments had been spoiled by the Internet and the trailers. (The special cameo was definitely spoiled, but even knowing what and who it was, it was still BRILLIANT.) That’s not the case for Zombieland.
If you can stand some laughs with your zombies, or zombies with your comedy, then you’re in for a real treat. Zombieland isn’t quite as funny as The Hangover, but it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s a fresh take on a genre that was starting to get a little musty, crackling with humor and energy. If I sound like I’m gushing, it’s because I am; go see it ASAP.