Friday, October 09, 2009

'Zombieland' is bloody good fun

“Zombieland” is so much better than any expectations you might have for a movie called “Zombieland.” Oh, it is by no means high art, but it is a rollicking good time with some of the heartiest laughs in a movie this year.

Clearly, “Zombieland” is not going to be for everyone. The title practically doubles as a disclaimer. If you walk into this film not expecting to see copious amounts of gore, blood and cartoonish violence, then you get what you deserve.

The zombie genre isn’t exactly a shining beacon of good cinema and the zombie comedy is even less so. The original zombie movie, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” is a classic that has rarely been replicated whether it is for scares or laughs.

One exception is the brilliant British comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” which “Zombieland” thankfully does indeed recall. The tone here is broader and there’s more action, but, like “Shaun,” the film takes the time to develop the characters and create relationships.

In “Zombieland,” the world is over run by zombies. Over the course of the film we meet seemingly the last five humans left in the United States. Each character is referred to by the city they came from because names lead to emotional attachments, at least according to Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson).

Tallahassee is a master at zombie killing and takes great pleasure in doing so in inventive ways. He also in search of a Twinkie and is quite willing to put his life in danger to find one.

Harrelson parlayed his popularity on the show “Cheers” into a successful film career in the 1990s with a string of lead roles in such films as “Natural Born Killers,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” Indecent Proposal” and “Kingpin.”

He hasn’t had a lead role in a decade instead taking supporting roles in a diverse cross-section of films. He certainly picked a juicy role in which to return to center stage and he’s absolutely perfect in it. His quirky line delivery and offbeat choices make Tallahassee a character worth remembering.

Tallahassee reluctantly teams with Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, “Adventureland”), a geeky obsessive compulsive, shut-in. Oddly enough these traits make him an ideal candidate for surviving the zombie apocalypse. Columbus, the narrator of the film, has a list of survival rules, which amusingly pop up on screen throughout the film.

Eisenberg has a low-key, dead-pan persona that plays nicely off Harrelson’s more over-the-top style. Eisenberg comes across like a less neurotic, more naturalistic version of Woody Allen or Albert Brooks.

Tallahassee and Columbus meet up with Wichita (Emma Stone, “Superbad”) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”), survivalist sisters on their way to an amusement park in California where it is rumored there are no zombies. The four form an uneasy alliance.

In the movie’s best and funniest sequence, the foursome stops off in Hollywood and decides to crash a celebrity mansion, only to discover the celebrity still lives there. I won’t reveal the actor who plays himself, but it is a hoot.

The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is clever and full of sharp one-liners, but also allows for a sweet relationship to develop between Wichita and Columbus. There’s also a surprisingly effective emotional moment involving Harrelson that may catch viewers off-guard.

First time director Reuben Fleischer has a keen eye for staging both action and a good sight gag. The climatic showdown at the amusement park is probably the best showcase of his talent.

Some people may have dismissed the film based upon its title alone, but if you don’t mind a bit of stomach churning imagery, you may be surprised by how much you actually enjoy this film. At around 80-minutes, the film doesn’t wear out its welcome. It is a quick, pure jolt of entertainment.

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