Originally developed as a television series, ZOMBIELAND, which clocks in at a scant 81 minutes, plays as an over-the-top gross-out comedy,
but can also be enjoyed as a fun-filled romp through the cliches of horror films, a tongue-in-cheek love affair for the DAWN OF THE DEAD and 28 DAYS LATER crowd. It's loads of fun and if you're smart you'll see it with a rowdy crowd in the evening, not in the late morning with two other moviegoing middle-aged schlubs sporadically situated throughout the auditorium - hardly the atmosphere for an audience participation movie. Apparently, not everyone likes zombies with their cereal. Who knew? You live, you learn.
Jesse Eisenberg, fresh off the success of ADVENTURELAND, is the film's unsung hero who doubles as narrator. An unnamed contagion has spread like wildfire across the earth, leaving just a few untainted souls left to their own defenses to stay alive. Although 25 years-old, he looks much younger, his frame imbued with all of the confidence of a high school nerd going on his first date. He bears a little bit of a resemblance to actor Michael Cera. A student in Austin, TX, he spends his weekends playing video games, dreaming about his dream girl and fantasizing about tucking her hair behind her ear, without once putting the steps in motion to actually find her. One of his greatest fears is that of circus clowns. After his "insanely hot" next door neighbor (Amanda Heard) seeks refuge in his apartment prior to becoming a zombie, he sets out to see if his parents in Columbus, OH are okay, though he remarks that they are dysfunctional and he never felt that he ever had much of a family. This earns him the nickname of Columbus by Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a gun-toting, cowboy hat-wearing vagrant whom he meets along the way. Tallahassee, who lost his young son, keeps a distance from people, and therefore refuses to learn their names. His sole raison d'etre now is to devour a Hostess Twinkie.
Columbus has made some rules for himself for purposes of self-preservation, such as Rule #1: Cardio (this illustrates why obese people cannot outrun the zombies); Rule #3: Beware of Bathrooms (better to shit in the woods rather than chance opening a bathroom door); Rule #31: Check the Backseat (a no-brainer). It calls to mind Jamie Kennedys advice for surviving teen slasher and horror flicks in Wes Cravens SCREAM.
Columbus and Tallahassee encounter Wichita (Emma Stone of SUPER BAD and THE HOUSE BUNNY) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) who both initially con the men out of their wheels and guns. Eventually, wisdom prevails and the two pairs realize that their chances of survival increase exponentially if they all co-operate and trust each other.
Since Wichita and Little Rock know the fate of most of the country, they are bent on going to Little Rocks favorite childhood memory Pacific Playland in California. A pit stop in Beverly Hills has them storm Bill Murrays house where Columbus and Wichita almost kiss.
When Wichita and Little Rock leave the boys behind in search of Pacific Playland, they eventually make it there, but they get so caught up in the fun of the carnival rides that they forget that they are ringing the dinner bell for the zombies. Columbus and Tallahassee come to their rescue, which sets off an orgy of gunfire.
Whereas George Romeros zombie films were often regarded by critics as social commentary cloaked as shocking entertainment, ZOMBIELAND does not pretend to be anything other than what it is: a fun-filled ride. Director Ruben Fleisher, a self-described comedy guy, sets the film in the media-created panic of the late 2000s where food source contamination and swine flu are real-life concerns and provide the basis for the plague that has now engulfed the planet. Like the London of 28 DAYS LATER and the New York of I AM LEGEND, ZOMBIELANDs Los Angeles is a barren wasteland of familiar settings (Graumans Chinese Theater sits along a street overrun by flesh-eating creatures). Most of the banter was done through improvisation. Unlike the films ZOMBIELAND pays tribute to, it ends on a positive note, with Columbus realizing that his three cohorts are the closest he ever had to a family and thats just fine by him, because to him, without a family, you are just a zombie. Awwwwwwww!
The film sets itself up for a sequel, and it would be fun to see the zombies chase Harrelson back up the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Jonathan Stryker