To be clear, Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland” is less a zombie movie than it is a road movie/comedy. Just to get that out of the way first, because if you’re going into “Zombieland” demanding decent zombie action, I have to tell you, you’ll find the film to be lacking. But if you can put away that expectation, and just take the film for what it is, then you should have plenty of good times. It is, after all, a movie where all four main characters are named after cities.
“Zombieland” got to be that way, we’re told via voiceover narration by our gutless hero Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), because of Mad Cow disease, which turned into Mad Human disease, and before you know it, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Our hero Columbus is a World of Warcraft enthusiast and your basic single guy loser/slacker who has managed to survive the end of the world by following a set of rules, such as finding a trigger-happy badass named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) to partner up with, not being a hero, and always make sure you’re in shape because there’s a lot of zombie chasing going on in this brave new decaying world.
While on their quest to find the last batch of that Godlike substance called Twinkies, the boys run afoul of grifting sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The sisters aren’t used to trusting people, much less two gun-toting men, but soon the foursome form an unlikely bond as they continue to the girls’ primary destination, a Disney-like theme park in Los Angeles, supposedly the last, zombie-free park in the world. Or, actually, Wichita just wants her little sister to get a taste of what it’s like to be normal again for one last time. The boys decide to tag along, mostly because Columbus has the wood for Wichita, and Tallahassee, well, he doesn’t really have all that much in terms of goals. Unless, of course, you call killing every zombie he comes across a goal, in which case he’s reaching his goals on a daily basis.
There’s really no reason why you should be watching “Zombieland” with any expectations that the film will scare you. Have you seen the trailers? Or the clips we’ve posted all over the site? This is not a movie to be taken seriously, and approached from that perspective, Ruben Fleischer and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have produced an enjoyable road comedy. There are zero scares in the whole thing (unless, of course, you’re really, really, really easily scared), and the action is ridiculously over-the-top. Which works wonderfully because over-the-top is exactly what Tallahassee is all about, and Harrelson certainly seems to be enjoying every second of his stay in “Zombieland”.
The star of “Zombieland” may be Jesse Eisenberg as our tour guide, but Woody Harrelson, as you may have guessed from the trailers, steals the show as the shoot first and ask questions never kind of guy. Emma Stone strikes a nice figure as the tough gal with a soft spot for her little sis, played by Breslin as a spunky, likeable kid. That doesn’t mean Eisenberg gets overshadowed. While he doesn’t command the screen like Tallassee (as probably scripted), Eisenberg certainly fits the role as written for him. The tall, lanky, smart kid who, despite his physical deficiencies, is probably smart enough to actually survive in such a situation. Twinkie bonus points to the screenwriters for not shoehorning some kind of love triangle between Wichita and the boys, one of those perfunctory conflicts I was dreading from the trailers.
“Zombieland” is the feature film debut of Ruben Fleischer, and boy, is it good to have a Hollywood budget to back you up the first time out. The film probably misses out on a lot of opportunities to pull an iconic “28 Days Later”-ish shot, but the world of “Zombieland” is nevertheless suitably trashed, deserted, and lonely. Though curiously for a world where everyone is either dead or a zombie, there are relatively few zombies around at any given time. There are long stretches of the movie where the survivors never encounter one zombie. In fact, it’s somewhat amusing that our heroes usually have to seek out the undead horde and not the other way around.
Take a trip to “Zombieland” for the laughs, but don’t expect any real heart-pounding thrills. The final zombie shoot-out at the park probably marks the film’s most action-packed 20 minutes or so, and that’s following what is probably 30 minutes of nothing but comedy as the gang hides out in a celebrity’s pad. The film clocks in at a breezy 80 minutes, but actually feels much shorter than that. The result is a fast paced adventure with relatively few dead spots (har har), making “Zombieland” a breezy and enjoyable little jaunt through the zombie apocalypse.
Ruben Fleischer (director) / Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick (screenplay)
CAST: Jesse Eisenberg … Columbus
Woody Harrelson … Tallahassee
Emma Stone … Wichita
Abigail Breslin … Little Rock
Amber Heard … 406
Bill Murray … Himself
Derek Graf … Clown Zombie