Friday, October 16, 2009

503 - Zombieland review

Ah, here we go. “Zombieland” is a serious injection of fun to the local theater, an apocalyptic horror comedy that provides laughs in equal measure with the chills and thrills. I’m hard pressed to think of any other film this year that functions more effectively as raw entertainment, assuming a road movie featuring the undead and a wicked sense of humor is something that would tingle your palate.

Over the past seven years or so, zombies have been the focus of much fuss from the geek and nerd crowd. “What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?” is a question that’s considered with childish enthusiasm by some, as if the majority of the world’s population transforming into bloodthirsty monsters would be enormously amusing for some dork whose only real experience with firearms is shooting a plastic arcade gun at a digital bank robber.

But remove the silly fantasies aside, the premise actually provides fertile soil for cool cinema, with an enormous range for action, horror, drama, social commentary, and even scathing satire. “Zombieland” leaves out the commentary and satire but keeps the others in, but is shrewd enough to present an appeal broader than end of the world fetishists and teenage boys. Its gags really are funny, the few characters (perhaps only seven or so speaking roles, four major) are memorable and sympathetic.

The protagonists are a foursome of survivors who have adapted to life in an undead world in different ways. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a college student whose rigid adherence to rules (Rule #1: Cardio) has allowed him to avoid having his flesh eaten. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, awesome) is a Twinkie-crazed yokel who delights in killing zombies on sight, and seemingly impervious to even close calls. And there’s sisters Wichita (Emma Stone, star rising) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), whose lifestyle as con artists means that perhaps their lives haven’t changed much compared to their compatriots. These characters are actually written, acting roughly as I believe they would, not merely how their archetype says they should.

The most impressive trick of “Zombieland” is that even as it sees the end of the world as a game, it only does so through the lens of characters provided with no alternative view. At the beginning I thought I was watching what essentially amounted to a one-note (albeit extremely funny) joke. But “Zombieland” gradually and unexpectedly gives us glimpses of the characters’ inner turmoil, the grief and loss that drive them as they struggle to survive in a world that suddenly makes even less sense than it did before. Columbus’ rules are as much coping mechanism as they are survival tool.

“Zombieland” doesn’t match the creeping dread of George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead,” nor does it hit the blisteringly violent apex of Zach Snyder’s 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake. I’ll confess to being less than impressed with the resolution to the film’s most unexpected joke, and there’s an indifference to the area outside the characters’ line of sight that could have easily been remedied. But it’s easily superior to the preposterously overrated zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and the enjoyable but slightly vapid “28 Days Later” series. This is bloody, exhilarating, funny, fun, fun, and fun. Sometimes, that’s even better than being great.

4 out of 5


Christian Toto said...

Had to see this a second time when a rainstorm forced my buddies and I into the nearest movie theater.

Enjoyed it even more on closer inspection. Raw escapism, fine tuned for maximum pleasure.

Ryan said...

Admit it, you like it for the homage to equilibrium.

frazier15n said...

I've rarely heard so many out-loud laughs in a theater, yet when my father went (in part due to my glowing response to the film), he couldn't make it through the first ten minutes because he was appalled at all the zombie killing in the opening credits of "Zombieland." Funniest thing he's said/done in recent memory.

Good work including the pain of loss we see through the characters. That's the genre twist I haven't seen in other zombieflicks: post traumatic stress type stuff. Powerful when the movie wants it to be.