Zombie business isn’t booming like it was a few years ago now that vampires have moved in and taken over their cinematic turf but zombies are in no way dead (which is kind of their thing) as they’ve migrated successfully to video games where we finally have the technology to kill them as brutally and as gleefully as possible. “Zombieland” is that video game back to the big screen and it leaves tense, existential survival behind in favor of joyous, violent survival.
Humanity never got around to reading the Zombie Survival Guide and now the zombies far outnumber people in what our hero “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg) dubs “Zombieland”. “Columbus” runs across “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson) and then the two of them encounter sisters “Witchita” (Emma Stone) and “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin). The girls are trying to get to Pacific Playland so Little Rock can have just a little moment of feeling like a kid again but there’s not much push beyond that. Tallahassee just wants a Twinkee before they all go bad (and it’s true that Twinkees will spoil). As for Columbus, the only thing he wants more than to follow his various survival rules is too maybe brush a girl’s hair back over her ear.
If this all sounds silly, that’s the point. “Zombieland” is a horror-comedy that’s light on horror but heavy on comedy. It’s really a road trip movie with episodic comedy splattered with violent mayhem. And as you might expect, it’s a lot of fun. The movie isn’t attempting to honor past zombie films like “Shaun of the Dead” or even trying to re-invent them like “28 Days Later”. It knows common zombie survivor mistakes and then has Columbus explain them as a rule, like “Cardio” or the “Double-Tap” which means not being stingy with your bullets and making sure your un-dead has finally become dead-dead. With these rules in mind, the characters are free to engage in inventive and hilarious kills, most belonging to Tallahassee.
While Jesse Eisenberg’s narration perfectly sets the tone of the film, the real star here is Harrelson as he turns zombie killing into an art. Most sane people would never charge at a zombie with a pair of hedge-clippers as their weapon of choice but for Tallahassee you get the feeling that he’s doing it simply because he’s never killed a zombie that way before. Harrelson is having so much fun that like Eisenberg’s narration, he sets the tone and the fun is infectious.
My only concern about “Zombieland” is how it will hold up on repeat viewings. It’s funny, has likable characters, and features some memorable kills but as most gamers know, multiplayer works best because the path isn’t pre-determined. Also, I don’t want to make you think that this is a video game in passive or disconnected nature. By using the right mixture of CG and practical effects, director Ruben Fleischer keeps the tone of a videogame without making you feel like ushers are going to be distributing Xbox 360 controllers in the aisles. But aside from its possible replay value, on the first play-through “Zombieland” is a breezy 88 minutes of delightful carnage.
Rating —– B+