Movie Review: Zombieland

I know I’m really late with this one, but here goes. Zombieland is practically the American version of Britain’s Shaun of the Dead in that it features a cast of comedic characters in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. The key difference between the films is that Sean was a by-the-numbers zombie movie parody and Zombieland is a bit more free form. There are fewer nods to the style and formula of zombie movies, fewer allusions to horror movie history. In the absence of tradition the filmmakers chose to go the less obvious route: packing the movie to the brim with class act comedy.

Zombieland centers around Jesse Eisenberg’s character Columbus wandering around a post-apocalyptic America. He runs into Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee) and they team up. They run into Emma Stone and Abagail Breslin, Wichita and Little Rock respectively. They team up. They crack jokes. Occasionally they fight zombies. There’s a really choice cameo. They fight some more zombies. That’s it.

Zombieland is like a really strong episode of the new NBC comedy Community. It sacrifices storytelling for jokes time and time again. This is usually a bad tactic, but in both cases the results are strong because the quality of the jokes is so high. Zombieland is unreasonably funny. Smart, tongue-in-cheek and vaguely serious all at the same time. There are certain choices that director Ruben Fleischer makes (like Columbus’s zombie survival rules appearing visually onscreen) that give the movie a real flair, and if it wasn’t for the ludicrously silly moments of the movie- the quest for Twinkies for God’s sakes- this could have been a hipper more stylized version of the same basic concept. In a way the sloppy execution of certain aspects of the storytelling really make Zombieland more endearing. If Sean of the Dead was about aping Romero’s zombie classics, Zombieland seems more concerned with mimicking Roger Corman.

And what’s the deal with Jesse Eisenberg anyway? Can he only star in movies with the word Land in the title? How did he fall into the Jason Schwartzman nerdy but charming guy leading man role so easily? In any case he’s great in this movie, as usual. People tend to give him shit because he always plays characters who are very similar to one another, but I don’t think those people understand how you get cast in movies. You get cast in movies by being able to deliver something people like. If it worked the first time, the entire Hollywood system is programmed to believe that you the viewer will like it a second time, as soon as they can rehire the crew and slap a ‘2’ on the poster. That means that once you make bank on a gimmick, you’d better stick with it for as long as the public will allow. Unless of course you’re serious about your craft and actually give a damn about acting. (I’m looking at you, Daniel Day Lewis.)

Everybody’s playing their schtick to its apex in this picture. Woody Harrelson is kind of dumb and kind of badass. Emma Stone is kind of tough and kind of hot. Abagail Breslin is both little and a girl, thus fulfilling the full extent of her contractual agreement. The only problem with the picture is that it’s ultimately unfulfilling on a basic level, like a dinner based entirely of cotton candy. It’s probably the ultimate distraction movie. It’s undeniably violent and remarkably hilarious. It’s rarely scary and mostly light. Afterward there isn’t the slightest chance you’ll be left with something lasting to really say about the picture besides, “You won’t believe the cameo!” (Spoiler: Pot kills!) The entire movie can be summed up in the same sentence as National Lampoon’s Vacation: “An unconventional family sets forth on a cross-country journey and hits many speed bumps along the way.” There’s even a Wally World at the end! (P.S. I’m not sure why anyone would think a Demon Drop / Power Tower ride would be a solid escape plan.)

I can’t really discuss my problems with this movie without giving too much away, but the truth is that if you’re looking for a good funny Halloween movie, this is the film for you. You’ll laugh consistently throughout and live vicariously through the characters as they whack zombies and wreak property damage on the ruins of America. Again, I can’t say much for the story, but I think my partial bias toward Sean of the Dead disables me from appreciating the movie as a fully original concept. Both films are great in their own rights, and quite different when it comes down to it. It feels weird saying this four reviews in a row, but I definitely recommend you check this movie out. Could this be the start of an incredible fall film and television line-up? My sources say, damn I hope so.

Grade: B+

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