Blockbuster Beat by Brendan Peterson Film

Zombieland — Reuben Fleischer

October 18, 2009

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen and, at this point, most U.S. citizens have either written, starred in, or been an extra in a zombie film. Over the years we’ve seen scary zombies (Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later), funny zombies (Shaun of the Dead, Cemetery Man), cheerleader zombies (Zombie Cheerleader Camp), and so many others. So why do we need another zombie movie? Well, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, until you see Zombieland. Directed by Reuben Fleischer, from a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, this is something of a new kind of zombie flick; a wild, contemporary, all-American joyride that gleefully answers the question on everyone’s mind: What happens when the zombies win? It’s narrated by a neurotic anti-hero, the nerdy, overly talkative Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), and it unfolds in a world where zombies roam free and living people are few and far between. How did this happen? It has something to do with Mad Cow disease, but really, who cares? There are zombies everywhere! Columbus survived the sudden influx of the undead thanks to a few simple rules, somewhat reminiscent of the no-nonsense advice doled out in Max Brooks’ indispensable book, The Zombie Survival Guide. (For example, Columbus’ rule #1: cardio—thanks to strong, aerobic conditioning, he can outrun any number of lumbering zombies, which he illustrates in an early scene as he tuckers out a group of moaning maniacs by running in circles.) On his way to Ohio, Columbus runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a bad-ass, zombie-killing cowboy who grudgingly agrees to give Columbus a lift. Soon, this unlikely duo is beating the crap out of slobbering zombies and searching for the one thing in the world that Tallahassee desires most: twinkies.

This unique odd-couple screen team bring out the best in each other as they struggle to stay alive amidst the brain-hungry morass, and as they meet up with troublemaking sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Before you can say, “Kill the Brain, Kill the Ghoul,” this fearless foursome embark on a bizarre, gory road trip through the wasteland that was once America. Their cross-country journey culminates in Los Angeles, where the blood-splattered crew visit a real live celebrity, whose stunning, surreal cameo is the films’ high point. The less said about this the better; suffice it to say, it’s brilliant and choke-on-your-Rasinettes funny. In fact, the whole finale, in a deserted amusement park, is the perfect climax for an already over-the-top film. On the surface, filmmaker Ruben Fleischer has crafted a big budget extravaganza complete with fiery car explosions and hijacked amusements park rides.

But the soul of Zombieland is low budget. That’s a compliment. The film operates in an offbeat world of the unexpected. In scene after scene you can feel the cast and crew trying fresh things. Whether it’s the recurring, creative references back to Columbus’ rules for survival or a fantastic little riff featuring the “Zombie Kill of the Week,” Fleischer and crew are obviously having fun at every turn. That energy jumps off the screen and makes up for a handful of quiet, dialogue-driven scenes that come off a bit flat. Quiet is not this film’s forte; Zombieland works best when it’s turned up to 11. These filmmakers are clearly fans of Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead 2 and other classic horror zomedies. But Zombieland is more than a straight-up homage or postmodern redux. It’s got more on its mind than gut-chomping brutes on parade. This movie is about family and the importance of human connections in a world overrun by madness and mayhem. That may sound corny, and it is, but it’s also true. And what better way to get that message across then by killing zombies? Amazingly, Zombieland was #1 at the box office on its opening weekend. What does this mean? Americans crave subversive horror comedies at the multiplex? Woody Harrelson has way more fans than anyone knew? Zombies rule? Maybe it’s all of the above. Regardless, there’s no denying that Zombieland is a trippy, exhilarating road trip flick for B-movie fans and zombie geeks everywhere.