Monday, October 18, 2010

Zombieland Movie Review

There are vampire movies and there are zombie movies. They come in all shapes and sizes. They come in comedy, drama and outright horror. Only one of them truly lends itself to comedy, however. Vampires are not inherently funny in the way zombies are. Oh, they’ve tried with vampires. Who can forget a young Jim Carrey starring in Once Bitten? The comedy in some vampire movies tends to spring forth from more situational comedy: Kristy Swanson as the valley girl turned killer in Buffy the Vampire Slayer; James Woods’ wisecracking in John Carptenter’s Vampires; or the outrageousness of From Dusk Till Dawn.

Zombies, on the other hand, are just hilarious by themselves. Think about it. The way they move, the groans, the dripping blood and oozing orifices is comedy gold. Well, it can be anyway. To be sure, the original zombie flick, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is terrific terror. But look how far the genre has come in 40 years – to Shaun of the Dead a few years ago and then last year’s Zombieland.

For a writing/directing team of first timers when it comes to feature films (Ruben Fleischer at the helm of a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick), here is a film that shows remarkable skill at economy of storytelling. Of course, all three men come from TV backgrounds (in fact, the original story idea was conceived as a TV pilot for an eventual series), which has given them all the training they need to squeeze an hour’s worth of story into 42 minutes. The running time of Zombieland is 88 minutes, including credits. Sure, it could have been filled out with an additional fifteen minutes (the deleted scenes on the DVD) would easily tack on another five or six), but it would lose the brisk pace necessary to keep the comedy rolling and the blood spurting.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus (all the characters are referred to by places rather than real names), one of the few survivors of a raging fever that is plaguing the world’s population. The zombies of Zombieland are not the un-dead, but live human beings with swollen brains, manic fever and a taste for human flesh. Columbus survives by sticking to his OCD list of rules that appear on screen like pop-up ads each time one of them is employed: always wear your seatbelt; beware of bathrooms where you’re vulnerable; the double-tap to make sure the zombie is actually dead. Then of course there’s my favorite: cardio. It was the fatties who died first, Columbus tells us.

Columbus partners up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson in fine comedic form), a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to zombies. “My mom always told me I’d be good at something. Who’d have thought that thing would be zombie killing?” Indeed! Tallahassee’s one weakness is Hostess Twinkies, which leads them to meeting Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), two sisters on their way to Pacific Playland amusement park which they’ve heard is zombie free. And so this zombie comedy becomes a zombie comedy road movie, providing a little gem of a montage showing the various banal and amusing conversations taking place in a car with four people you couldn’t imagine traveling together.

If you haven’t seen the film I won’t ruin the wonderful celebrity cameo when the gang visits Hollywood. Suffice it to this celeb is very sporting in going along, providing some of the film’s best laughs. It’s completely unexpected and absolutely worth it.

Zombieland succeeds not just because it’s funny (and it really is, although not always in a guffawing belly laugh kind of way), but because the characters, who are really well crafted both in the writing and the performances, are always in actual danger. This is a zombie film that happens to be very funny.

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