REVIEW: Zombieland [2009]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 88 minutes | Release Date: October 2nd, 2009 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Ruben Fleischer
Writer(s): Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick

“It’s amazing how far you can go with costume jewelry and a cutthroat attitude”

It is sometimes a fine line to cross when handing the reins of a big budget film to a newcomer, but that’s exactly what Sony Pictures did with Zombieland. The foursome in the lead aren’t necessarily A-list big money talent, but they are stalwarts in the industry, (Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin—I know she’s 13, but she did get an Oscar nom), and rising stars, (Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone). Steeped in horror clichés and more than enough blood and gore for a Saw film, Ruben Fleischer pretty much hit the jackpot. With a release date in the month of October, (How many films like this get dumped in January/February as failures?), and the bonus of being a comedy with a gigantic media blitz on the airwaves, the film cannot fail. Vying against a list of indies, nothing stands in the way of a number one box office take, and, frankly, it may even deserve it. A witty script, charismatic acting, more than its fair share of sarcasm, and effective make-up work create a fun little joyride through hell on earth.

The world has been taken over by a disease that spread like wildfire from a Mad Cow burger to flesh eating creatures walking dead. Our narrator is Columbus—no names please—looking to find his way back home to see if the family he never fully felt he had was alive. Always a loner, choosing to play World of Warcraft rather than interact with humans, let alone the female sex, he is the perfect candidate to survive the apocalypse. Phobia-filled and overly cautious, I couldn’t think of a better actor to portray his idiosyncrasies than Eisenberg. This is what he does best—gutless paranoia—and it works. Compiling a list of rules to stay alive: Cardio, The Double Tap, Avoid Bathrooms, (poor Mike White), Always Check the Backseat, etc; it becomes very hard for him to change once discovering he is not alone. Wise-cracking badass Tallahassee, riding strong in his Cadillac Escalade, fitted with a snow plow no less, enters the fray and turns the college kid’s world around, even creating a new rule: Enjoy the Little Things. In the second best casting choice, (okay, maybe the best), this man from Florida is brought to life by Harrelson. Surly, short-tempered, and hilarious, the pairing of the two just begs for laughs, making the film more buddy comedy—helping the other cope with loss and see that they have a chance to start over—than the horror spoof it bills itself as. But the zombies definitely help too.

Zombieland is riddled with gimmicks that surprisingly work. In a brilliant introduction, we are given a laundry list of Columbus’s rules with examples of why they have become so important to survival. Complete with the number and name of each superimposed over the scene in question, we are ushered into this world, quickly catching up on where it stands. The rules are followed pretty religiously throughout and whether spoken aloud or just done out of habit, none go without the rule flashing back onscreen, animated in conjunction with what’s physically there, reminding us at home of their effectiveness. Watching Eisenberg run around a gas station parking lot towards his car, only to drop his keys and need to continue running around, getting enough distance between him and his pursuers to retrieve them, shows how important cardio really is. As for #7, Limbering Up, well, let’s just say some rules are a bit overkill. One does have to appreciate the Kill of the Week, however. Listening to these two tell stories of what they’ve seen, one-upping the other at every turn, I was almost saddened that the payoff winner had been revealed in the trailer. It is still funny, though, and the climatic scene at the end definitely gives it a run for its money.

But it isn’t all about the boys; Stone and Breslin arrive soon enough as Wichita and Little Rock—interesting names since both are supposed to be sisters, but then that’s reading a little too far into it. Master con artists, (there’s White again, such a glutton for punishment), the two are trying their best to survive and reach Pacific Playland, an amusement park visited as children and a sort of oasis amongst the carnage surrounding them. Unable to trust another soul, the girls really get under the guys’ skin, stealing their car and running off without remorse. Leave it to a classic cameo by a well-known actor to bring the foursome together, bonding at his 90210 address and letting out aggression by shooting up his china. I won’t divulge the name of the person in question, but you’ll be laughing as soon as you see the Andy Warhol-esque painting on his wall depicting his mug. The jokes fly at a rapid pace from this point on, if not for the entire duration, and while some might not be entirely fresh, (having the 12 year-old girl not know who Bob Marley or Ghandhi is), or easily contemporary, (a shot at Facebook), the atmosphere and tone make it hard not to laugh.

Right from the opening credit sequence—a nicely orchestrated scene of zombie attacks with animated credits being push and shoved by the action occurring around them—you see the care taken to make it as authentic a zombie flick as possible. There are even moments sprinkled about where the undead fall or get ripped apart, blood splattering onto the camera lens. It’s a subtle effect, yet key to instilling some realism and engagement with the audience. As far as caring for the characters, you won’t be so much hoping to find out what happens to them as much as wanting to see what antics and messed up situations they can find on the run. Give Woody Harrelson a bag of automatic weapons, a four-walled caged-in area and watch the body count rise with blood running through the streets. His mother did say that he’d find something he’s good at eventually. Thank the lord the zombie virus took over the nation because while many would weaken at the knees and just give up to die, he shoved his past sorrows down deep and decided to have fun. There is no better catchphrase then the one he uses before running headfirst into a blood bath … you just have to “nut up or shut up”. It has the ring of poetic genius.

[1] Jesse Eisenberg stars in Columbia Pictures’ comedy ZOMBIELAND. Photo By: Glen Wilson
[2] Woody Harrelson (left) and Jesse Eisenberg (center) star in Columbia Pictures’ comedy ZOMBIELAND. Photo By: Glen Wilson

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