Movie Review: Zombieland
By Matthew Huntley
October 15, 2009
Given its premise, you'd think Zombieland was adapted from a video game. It has all the characteristics of one, not least the reckless hero shooting zombies while riding a roller coaster. He's got no other choice, unless he wants to become a zombie himself. In this world, it's the United States of Zombieland and there are only a handful of survivors, so you either nut up or shut up.
The mayhem doesn't just take place on rides. Zombies attack from all over—inside bathrooms; outside gas stations; on the freeway; in supermarkets; and, eventually, in an amusement park. All these locations could easily be different levels in a video game, and if one isn't already in the works, there certainly will be.
Regardless of its different forms, I had a good time at Zombieland. It's fast, funny and short enough so it doesn't wear out its welcome. Movies of this nature tend to run out of gas if they're allowed too long a running time, but this one keeps kicking.
There are four regular humans in the movie (technically there are five, but I don't want to give away the special guest). Each is named after the city they're from. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the narrator, is a nerdy college student trying to get back to Ohio to see if his parents are still alive; Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) is a badass zombie killer seeking revenge...and one good Twinkie; Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are a pair of conniving sisters scheming their way to the west coast to enjoy a supposedly zombie-free theme park.
Columbus tells us the only reason he's still alive is because he follows his own set of rules: 1) Cardio — one must be able to outrun zombies and not get winded; 2) Double tap — shooting a zombie twice just to make sure he's dead (this was my favorite because it disallows the horror movie convention of the villain coming back for one last attack (it was also mentioned in Scream); 3) Beware of bathrooms, because you never know what might sneak under the stall door; 4) Seatbelts — at some point, you'll probably have crash into a brick wall, which, in a world like Zombieland, is all too common.
There are other rules, of course, and the movie playfully throws them on-screen whenever they apply to a given situation. It's this type of irreverent (and sometimes inspired) humor that makes the movie shine, along with the performances and sharp character interactions.
I laughed a lot during this movie, especially at the hands of Eisenberg and Harrelson. Their one-on-one scenes give the movie its charge and they have some surprisingly strong chemistry together, with Eisenberg playing the cautious mamma's boy and Harrelson doing a send up of his own serial killer character from Natural Born Killers. In fact, the latter performance could be why director Ruben Fleischer cast him in the first place. No matter the reason, he's got some of the best lines in the movie ("Thank God for rednecks!") and he has a lot of fun with it
As for Eisenberg, he's a good actor who may be pigeonholed into playing the same role over and over again. He's often compared to Michael Cera, but I think he has a greater range (see The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland). Although he's pitch-perfect for Zombieland, it's the more dramatic roles where he proves he's got talent beyond the geeky, virginal teenager. Movies like this are good, but he should concentrate on the deeper material as well, because he's got a presence.
A lot of genre fans are going to compare Zombieland to Shaun of the Dead, and as good as Shaun is, Zombieland is more entertaining on a kinetic level. To be fair, though, Zombieland probably wouldn't have existed without Shaun paving the way, just like Shaun wouldn't have existed without George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which wouldn't have existed without...you get the idea. No matter how you look at it, zombie movies are alive and well and show no signs of slowing down. Zombieland is the latest and it's a keeper.