People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Monday, October 5, 2009
  Review: Zombieland
I had high expectations for Zombieland going in, based on the hilarious ads and the solid cast. I'm happy to report that not only were those expectations met, they were exceeded. Zombieland is the most fun I've had in a movie theater since Inglourious Basterds (read my gushing review here), which is actually a higher compliment than it sounds, as that was the most fun I'd had in a theater in probably close to a year.

As much as I'm not a big horror fan, I tend to like zombie movies a lot because of the subtext and social commentary the genre allows. Zombieland has a bit of that – the nerdy, reclusive main character, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), finds the family unit in the titular zombie-filled wasteland that he never had before the zombie apocalypse – but I loved it primarily because it's just so damn funny. If you're seeking a more traditional, "scary" zombie movie, look elsewhere; Zombieland is basically just a comedy that happens to take place in the world after the zombie apocalypse. There's some nicely funny splatter here, but director Ruben Fleischer is far more interested in laughs and characters than gore.

The plot of Zombieland follows "Columbus" – the human characters in the film are mostly referred to by the places they're ostensbly trying to get to – our narrator and unlikely survivor of the zombie apocalypse. He's managed to stay alive mostly because of his strict set of rules (which Fleischer finds cute ways to visually reinforce throughout the film), but also because his being a socially maladjusted shut-in uncomfortable with human contact actually left him more psycologically prepared than most people for solitary life in the wasteland. He soon comes across Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a cowboy hat-wearing badass who seems to take a bit too much pleasure in killing zombies. Soon the pair stumbles across two sisters (Superbad's Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine fame) grifting their way across the zombie-filled wasteland, and before long the four are on a road trip to a California theme park rumored to be free of the mindless cannibals.

The core of Zombieland is the characters, mainly Eisenberg (who's actually better at Michael Cera's 'geeky white guy' shtick than Cera himself) and Harrelson, who have wonderful chemistry together. The pair are in just about every scene in the movie together, and their dynamic makes Zombieland a joy to watch. Both actors are flat-out hilarious, but both also manage to give their characters an emotional center that makes them sympathetic – even the secret origin of Tallahassee tugged on my heartstrings more than I thought was possible.

The other thing I loved about Zombieland is that, with the exception of a couple of brief flashbacks, it's set well after the zombie apocalypse. Fleischer and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick wisely understand that at this point moviegoers have seen tons of movies chronicling the rise of the zombies and the fall of society, so the world they've created in Zombieland feels unique for nothing other than they don't dwell on that stuff. These are characters who've been surviving in this hell for months now, and the movie finds nicely subtle ways to examine what that means without spending more than a few minutes on their pre-zombie lives.

Zombieland is an absolute riot from start to finish. (It also has one of the greatest cameos I've ever seen, but I won't say anything more than that.) If you're not into zombie movies there's a chance some of the humor won't fly with you, but I loved it. I'd call Zombieland mindless fun, but there's a surprising amount of heart – and brains (both literal and figurative) – in this movie. Book yourself a trip to Zombieland. It's a blast.

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