By Riley Simpson
-Three and a half stars out of four
The British film “Shaun of the Dead” pretty much pioneered the sub-genre of zombie-romantic-comedies, or “zom-rom-com’s.” It perfectly mixed humor, action, horror, romance, and the undead with some memorable characters and a witty script to get an amazing finished product. “Shaun” actually ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time.
“Zombieland” is in the same genre as “Shaun.” It too, is a zom-rom-com. But the only difference between the two is that “Zombieland” is American. And it’s quite proud to display its nationality.
“Thank God for rednecks!” zombie killer Tallahassee exclaims when he and his companion, Columbus, stumble upon a yellow Hummer chocked full with weapons and ammunition in Texas. See, good ol’ American humor.
“Zombieland,” written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, is pretty much a tale of four humans surviving in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college student at the University of Texas. After the zombie invasion, he flees with his double-barreled shotgun and heads for Columbus, Ohio, where he hopes to reunite with his estranged family. Along the way, he meets the wild and wily Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who he pairs up with.
While filling Tallahassee’s understandable need for his all-time favorite dessert, Twinkies (apparently they have expiration dates now), they meet two con-artist sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone, Jules from “Superbad”) and Little Rock (Abagail Breslin, the cute, would-be-beauty-pageant-winner in “Little Miss Sunshine”) at a supermarket. At first, the two groups have an uneasy relationship: Wichita and Little Rock constantly con the guys out of their weapons and transportation (which is a small bump in the road in a world of zombies). Note: the characters are referred to by their hometowns to avoid forming any relationships with each other in the unpredictable and deadly Zombieland.
Eisenberg, coming off his quirky role in “Adventureland,” has another quirky and awkward role in Columbus. He has a set of rules that help him survive in the zombie-infested world, including #1. Cardio (because those who are in a less-than-average physical condition aren’t able to outrun zombies), #4. Seatbelts (because car accidents occur more often in Zombieland), which brings us to #31. Always Check the Backseat (because you never know when a zombie is lurking in your car). Columbus has over 30 rules, bu for the sake of your attention span, I’ll let you discover the rest in the movie theater. Also, it’s really creative on director Ruben Fleischer to display these rules as friendly reminders as Columbus demonstrates them throughout “Zombieland.” When Columbus sees a bloody thumb print on a bathroom door handle, right beside it is rule #3. Beware of Bathrooms. When Tallahassee fails to limber up (which is rule #18) while blowing off steam on a minivan (which means demolishing the windows and doors), he pulls something.
Harrelson’s flat-out fun character Tallahassee plays perfectly against Eisenberg’s off-key Columbus. In the pair’s first meeting, they have each other at gunpoint. Without uttering a single word, the stare at each other until Columbus makes a hitchhiking thumbs up. This exchange is the first of many between the two characters, because both actors play off each other so well. Also, Harrelson’s performance isn’t all fun and games, although he prides himself on creatively and hilariously killing the undead. He has a pretty heartfelt scene in which he describes what he lost in the zombie apocalypse.
The romantic aspect of “Zombieland” comes when Columbus gets the hots for Wichita. Earlier in the movie, Columbus explains that his goal in life is to meet a girl and be able to brush her hair behind her ear. He almost completes his goal in the beginning of the film, unfortunately she abruptly turns into a zombie and tries to devour Columbus. But thanks to the magic of toilet covers, Columbus dispatches of her easily. The relationship between Eisenberg and Stone feels somewhat natural. Of course, possibly being some of the last young adults on the planet narrows their options. But as the movie progresses, Wichita begins to realize that the strange boy she’s been fighting zombies with is actually a pretty decent guy. Of course, Tallahassee derails their first intimate moment by asking, “Hey, you guys wanna help move some couches? I’m making a fort!”
Now, “Zombieland” is not for the faint-hearted. As one would expect, it features zombies, complete with gashes, oozing blood and pus —you know, the good stuff. The movie starts out with, in slow motion, hordes of zombies chasing down humans, ripping their flesh out and chowing down. But even more violent are the over-the-top, fresh ways of killing zombies that the gang employ. Every time a zombie is killed, squirting blood or severed appendages are always involved. In one scene, as Tallahassee and Columbus are driving down the highway, they see a zombie wife enjoying her husband as a lunchtime meal, which is mainly the juice she sucks out of the man’s femur. Yum! Tallahassee then opens his door, smashing the zombie in the face. Another car-killing spree: in the final showdown, Tallahassee takes a machine gun to a mob of the undead, shooting most to “death.” But right after that massacre, he then runs his foot-wide tires over their head, crushing them like Gallagher smashes watermelons (here, Tallahassee follows rule #2. Double Tap— kill a zombie twice just to make sure of their demise).
Reese and Wernick’s script is quite basic. The plot spends most of its time setting up characters and zombie fight scenes, the last taking place in an amusement park in Hollywood, California. Eisenberg’s narration does tend to drag on at points, but his lowball humor and some creative and funny wordplay liven it up a bit. But by far, the greatest aspect of “Zombieland” can be found in one cameo. Now, since the sheer surprise factor of this appearance is so hilarious and ingenious, it feels wrong spoiling it here (some friendly advice: see the movie!). But with this cameo, coupled with the hilarity of the rest of the movie, prepare to laugh to death in “Zombieland.”