Director: Ruben Fleischer
This might sound like an exaggeration, but I'd wager to bet that it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to make a zombie movie. Where the real effort lies is in making a zombie movie that's doesn't suck. There's a lot of awful ones and a lot of ones that were simply "okay," but the list of ones that are truly awesome isn't as long as you might think. There haven't been a whole lot of additions to that list over the last decade or so, so the ones that make it have to be pretty darn awesome. England has contributed Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, Spain gave us [ĚREC], and I'd make the argument that Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead could make the list too. But those three recently got some company with the release of Zombieland. A horror/comedy that's leans most decidedly on the comedy side of the fence, Zombieland is a downright awesome movie that I'd definitely put on my list of the best zombie flicks ever made.
Two months have passed since a virulent mutation of mad cow disease caused the zombie apocalypse. And in the wake of the rise of the undead, America has ceased to be. All that remains is "the United States of Zombieland." Survivors no longer use the names on their birth certificates, but instead answer to the names of cities. It makes it easier to cope with the death of your riding buddy if you keep them at arm's length.
As the movie begins, we're introduced to Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a neurotic college student who has managed to survive with brains instead of brawn. He lives by a strict set of rules he's created, with each one applying to every possible situation he could think of. He is making his way to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, when he encounters Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a bad-to-the-bone zombie killer on a journey to find every last Twinkie he can. They're both heading east, so the mismatched duo decides to ride together for a few miles until they hit the eventual fork in the road.
Tallahassee's Twinkie obsession eventually leads them to an abandoned supermarket, where they run into Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), a pair of sneaky sisters who run a scam that ends with them stealing Tallahassee's car. Columbus and Tallahassee are lucky enough to find a Hummer full of guns and with the keys in the ignition, but they eventually encounter Wichita and Little Rock stranded on the side of the road, their stolen car having broken down. Any temptation Columbus and Tallahassee have to leave them behind is quickly dashed away when the sisters hold them at gunpoint and make them give them a ride. Now stuck with each other, the four survivors decide to head to Pacific Playland, a California amusement park that's rumored to be zombie-free. But their ride won't be an easy one, since there's those pesky trust issues between them, as well as the carnivorous zombies that are still out there.
The simple truth is that Zombieland is an awesome movie. There's no two ways about it. The movie is a blast from start to finish, never becoming tedious or disappointing. I'd definitely call it one of the most fun and entertaining movies of 2009. Everything about it the cast, the jokes, the overall feel of the movie perfectly gels together into the great big bucket of awesome that is ZOMBIELAND.
First up is the direction, handled by Ruben Fleischer. I'll confess that I'd never heard of Fleisher before Zombieland, and judging by his IMDB profile, there's a reason for that. But to his credit, he does a great job. Though he's guilty of a few excesses (the animated text that pops up whenever one of Columbus's rules are applied gets a little old after a while), he ultimately puts together a movie that is fun to look at. Whether the setting is a supermarket, a Beverly Hills mansion, or an amusement park, Fleischer and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain never let things get boring.
And not only is the director an unknown, but the writers are too. Zombieland was written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, whose only previous work of note was Spike TV's reality show parody The Joe Schmo Show. Their work on Zombieland is here to discuss, though, and I'll go ahead and let you know that they've done some fantastic work. Wernick and Reese have come up with a script full of witty black humor and a snarky attitude that makes the movie that much funnier. I've seen a few people call the movie an American version of Shaun of the Dead, but I don't know if I'd go that far. Because while Shaun of the Deadis something of a satire of the zombie genre, Wernick and Reese have written Zombieland as a borderline parody. The use of Columbus's list makes it seem self-aware at times, and the fact that its legitimate horror elements are almost negligible helps it stand apart from Shaun of the Dead. They do share a few elements, so the comparisons could be justified. But Zombieland is good enough that it can stand alone.
But let's not forget the cast, which is perhaps the movie's strongest element. Of the four primary cast members, my favorite performance comes from Woody Harrelson. He's hilarious as Tallahassee, a no-nonsense zombie killer whose enthusiasm is infectious. You can't help but like Tallahassee, and it's hard not to enjoy Harrelson. He's a lot of fun, and if there were ever a sequel or spin-off starring just Tallahassee, I wouldn't have a problem with that. The rest of the cast may be overshadowed by Harrelson, but they're all fine. Jesse Eisenberg does a respectable job in a role that probably would have gone to Michael Cera any other time. Eisenberg's character is a bundle of nerves who uses his own fear to stay alive, and he pulls it off believably. I also liked Emma Stone, whose turn as the cynical, thick-skinned Wichita is quite good. And bringing up the rear is Abigail Breslin. You don't see too many kids in zombie movies, so having Breslin play a 12-year-old survivor who has no problem using guns or scamming adults was a neat twist. She is entertaining in the role, so I can't complain.
I'm probably going to sound like a broken record, but Zombieland is an awesome movie. There's really nothing bad I can say about it, and any negatives I can find are minor at worst. I'd be more than willing to put it up against other classic zombie comedies like Zombieland or The Return of the Living Dead, that's how good it is. Zombieland is definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of either horror movies or comedies. So on the patent-pending Five-Star Sutton Scale, I'll give it four stars and a big stamp of approval. And if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, I'd crash at Bill Murray's house too.
Final Rating: ****