Zombieland a frothy, fun horror confection despite its predictability
I can say I had fun watching Zombieland. Most people will. That much is assured for a movie that is equal parts Superbad and Dawn of the Dead and manages to competently merge both subgenres, tropes and all.
But Zombieland is probably a story you have seen many times — even if it isn’t this exact story — and unless this is your first theater experience, you will likely understand these characters from Scene 1, what they hope for, how they will chase it and how it all ends. The movie is two story archetypes combined in the hope that the synthesis alone is compelling and new.
Well, it is, and it isn’t. Zombieland is kind of awesome, and it’s kind of not.
It introduces us to a young college student referred to only by his hometown, “Columbus,” played by Jesse Eisenberg with his usual deadpan, Michael Cera-esque wit. He is one of the few survivors of a worldwide zombie-driven holocaust who manages to stay alive through a series of comically introduced rules, including maintaining a good cardio regiment, “limbering up” before stepping into a potentially deadly situation and avoiding bathrooms where zombies prey on humans at their most, uh, vulnerable.
Before zombies ruined the world, Columbus wasn’t much different. He was a loner, an outcast who wanted nothing more than to fall in love with a girl. He spent his evenings alone in his apartment, playing video games, eating pizza and drinking Mountain Dew Code Red.
When the world went to seed, Columbus was uniquely prepared for the solitude. But, still, he longs for more.
Then he meets his yang: Tallahassee, played spot-on by Woody Harrelson. Zombie killing is to Tallahassee as homers were to The Babe. He lives for it, and he considers it his legacy. He’s also a man who lost someone during the zombie attacks, and he acts as if he has nothing to live for and wants for nothing — save for Twinkies, which he pursues vigorously throughout the movie because it is one of “the small things” left on the planet to enjoy. It’s a particularly nice touch in the movie, and Harrelson is very funny.
But Tallahassee and Columbus’ relationship begins as you might expect. Columbus is excited to meet another human. Tallahassee finds him annoying. Columbus follows rules, and Tallahassee just sort of barrel rolls into situations, locked and loaded, ready for surprises. These two characters essentially exist in most zombie movies.
After they’ve become somewhat attuned to each other’s style, they meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two teen schemers hoping to reach California where they hear there are no zombies. The girls outwit Tallahassee and Columbus, stealing their weapons and their car, and after some more double crossing, the girls decide to team up with Tallahassee and Columbus, and they head for Los Angeles.
Pretty immediately, Columbus develops an attraction for Wichita, and Zombieland’s romantic gears start grinding. It might also be worth noting Stone was Jonah Hill’s end goal in the teenage buddy/sex comedy Superbad, and for good reason. As an actress, Stone is a sharp and charming young comedienne, who, in one bizarrely hilarious scene, does a perfect impression of Annie Potts in Ghostbusters. (That scene, which, again, is hilarious, also involves Bill Murray playing himself, and his cameo is as funny and satisfying as you would expect.)
As Columbus, Eisenberg seems tailor-made to express his geeky character’s clumsy earnestness and self-deprecation. Columbus isn’t remarkably different than characters Eisenberg played in Adventureland and The Squid and the Whale. He is cautious, intelligent and completely milquetoast. Stone plays a Wichita with a slightly caustic edge that excites Columbus, and the countdown to their first romantic encounter begins.
Zombieland’s director, Ruben Fleischer, brings his own flashy style to the zombie comedy sub-subgenre, but he offers nothing terribly new in terms of storytelling. There’s an edge missing to his humor and his horror that keeps Zombieland lighter than perhaps it should be. It excites you, but it never really scares you. The movie’s constant comedic tone colors every frame and every line of dialogue, and it undermines any chance of truly surprising its audience. That may be Fleisher’s intent, but British director Edgar Wright showed rather brilliantly in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead that you could make a zombie movie both completely horrifying and wonderfully hilarious and satirical. Why have Zombieland when I can have that?
Well, because it’s a lot more fun to have both. Zombieland zips along nicely, and even if it never really surprises you, it never bores you either. It’ll definitely make you laugh and paired with a box of Snow Caps or something, it’s not a terrible way to spend 82 minutes.