Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: "Zombieland"

As promised, my 2nd Shocktober post is my review of the much-anticipated (at least by yours truly) comedy Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson.

Long-time readers already know of my, shall we say...mania for zombies and zombie movies. If you're a newer reader, just click the label for "Zombies" at the bottom of this post and you will quickly see what I'm talking about. There are tons of psychological explanations for why people like certain genres and sub-genres. Zombies both fascinate and repulse. They are our basest lizard brains functioning only to eat and eat and eat. "They," to quote the Master, Romero "are us."

In Zombieland, the Apocalypse has come and gone and America "... is no longer America." Or so our narrator, Columbus tells us at the start. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a loner, surviving by strictly adhering to a written list of rules. He's trying to make his way home to Ohio when he comes across Tallahassee (Harrelson), a seeming madman out to have a good time killin' zombies. And he is good at it, too. And he's also obsessed with finding the last Twinkie in the world before its expiration date. The unlikely duo agree to team up for a short while, if only because it's been so long since either has had human contact. When the two of them stumble upon a conniving pair of sisters in the back of a grocery store, the real trip begins. Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are headed to an amusement park outside Los Angeles, called "Pacific Playland." After an amusing bit of Cat and Mouse between the teams, the four soon find themselves living in a Hollywood mansion and playing Monopoly with real money.

The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (television writers who worked on the single season reality show called, "Invasion Iowa," which might as well have been called "William Shatner's Punq't"), doesn't have much a of plot other than the search for a "zombie-free zone" in which they can all finally stop running. And the movie is often more like a series of hilarious set pieces strung together, than anything else. But it works. Mostly because of the outstandingly hilarious performances from each member of the film's terrific cast.

Harrelson, however, is the star here and he plays the movie's outrageousness for all it's worth. Whether it's slinging an assortment of funnier and funnier deadly weapons at zombies' soft, mushy heads or tossing off one-liners in a snake-skin jacket, Harrelson owns almost every second of his screen time (and is outshone only by the painfully funny cameo of a not-to-be-spoiled-here-either celebrity - I haven't laughed that hard in a long time). Eisenberg, nerdy/goofy but somehow still adorable, holds his own as the understandably OCD-afflicted Columbus, who has to throw caution to the wind so he can grow as a person. Stone plays the sexy-tough girl who still runs the cons she ran before all hell broke lose and Breslin, as her sister's scamming partner, is starting to grow into a fine little actress. Director Ruben Fliescher (nothing you ever heard of) keeps it all moving along nicely and uses loads of visual jokes and puns, while still allowing plenty of slow-mo close-ups of gore and violence and funny zombies. And these zombies, just so you know, are fast zombies. Personally, I'm a slow zombie guy. But I certainly don't hate the fast zombies as vehemently as some traditionalists do. In this instance, it works.

Zombieland is hardly a perfect film. There are loads of plot-holes (Why is there still power? Who's running the rides at Pacific Playland?), but the action and jokes come fast and often enough, that you don't care. I saw it with D and my Dirty-Birdie Maddie, who both loved it as much as I, though poor D was traumatized by you-know-whats. While not as intellectually or slyly funny as Sean of the Dead, it still has loads to say about the need for human contact and cooperation, biological imperatives and what constitutes a family. In the end, Zombieland is without doubt, the funniest movie I've seen all year. A must for comedy and horror fans, while a special treat for zombie-lovers. ***1/2 (Three and a Half out of Four Stars). Rated "R" for Language, Violence and Gore.

More terrors, anon.

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