dir: Ruben Fleischer
You might not have noticed, but there’s been this plague outbreak recently. It didn’t all happen at once. It’s been a gradual progression, until more recently where it seems like it’s overwhelming everything and everyone.
It’s a plague of zombie movies, visited upon the planet as a prelude presumably to the actual apocalypse. It’s a benevolent but capricious God’s way of getting us ready for when the dead finally do walk the earth.
Either that, or there’s just no original ideas under the sun anymore.
Still, if you’re going to do something unoriginal, at least do it well and make it entertaining. You don’t even have to put that much of a spin on it: just make us smile.
Someone came up with the bright idea (many times, in many different forms, from World War Z to Shaun of the Dead to Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) that if you don’t take it seriously, a zombie plague could be pretty funny. What if you make your main character a college age kid who’s a bit of a dick and a nebbish, and actually have your characters enjoy themselves along the way?
Jesse Eisenberg has carved out a little niche for himself as this kind of compulsive/obsessive nerdy young Woody Allen type guy who’s smart but ill-suited to the social complexities of the big bad world. In that sense, he’s probably more of a Jewish Michael Cera. He’s also terrified of clowns, and germs, probably. Some genius decided taking this nice young chap and dropping him into an America overrun by unholy hordes, paired up with Woody Harrelson at his redneck-y best, would be a winning combination.
They’re probably right. I didn’t think the flick was anywhere near as funny as had been claimed by rapturous audiences and delirious critics, but I did find it entertaining enough. It’s no Shaun of the Dead, but then what is, apart from the legions of imitators that mention Shaun of the Dead in their marketing?
Columbus (Eisenberg), named after his hometown in Ohio, since most everyone in the flick is referred to by their point of origin rather than their actual name, is not only our protagonist but the perpetual fly in our ear, buzzing out a whole bunch of narration for your presumed benefit. Usually this much narration is a sign of a lack of confidence in your own movie, meaning you think people aren’t going to think it’s funny enough without someone else talking over a scene or some footage punching up the overall funniness. Columbus’s voiceovers are important, I guess, in the sense that without them we wouldn’t understand what was going on. I mean, these zombie flicks can get pretty complicated.
He’s on his way east to his hometown to see if his parents are still alive, despite the fact that he doesn’t really like them and isn’t really good at the whole interacting with humans thing. And he’s a virgin who compulsively played World of Warcraft up until the last days of the United States. Now he refers to it as Zombieland, and he has a strict set of rules intended to keep him alive as long as possible. For our benefit, presumably, the rules themselves actually flash up onto the screen, usually looking like a part of the scene that the actors don’t happen to notice.
It’s pretty amusing. The initial intro of the rules is accompanied with a short instructional video displaying the merits of the rule. Hence Rule 1: Cardio, or the mentioning thereof is accompanied by a scene showing just why cardiovascular fitness and the maintenance thereof is considered crucial to survival. The sad fact that the chubby and the chronically unfit were the first to go when the plague began is perhaps obvious, but still an embarrassing reminder to those of us on the hefty scale that we’re fucked come the zombie apocalypse.
He has a whole bunch of other rules, too, with varying levels of hilarity to their initial mentions and then the ‘proof’ of the theory as subsequent backup. The actual credits themselves, perhaps a bit too reminiscent of the sublime credit / backstory intro for Watchmen earlier in the year, is a pretty decent and funny ultra-slow-motion depiction of battles between infected and uninfected, set to a lovely piece of punk music.
For those keeping score: this is a fast zombie flick, not the slow, shambling Romero kind. The zombies sprint ravenous at their prey, and those without guns are pretty much fucked. Columbus eventually crosses paths with the cowboy hatted and booted Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who carries on like this is the greatest time of his life. When Columbus and Tallahassee drawn down on each other, yes, there’s that signature Ennio Morricone tune from Fistful of Dollars.
Film references abound throughout the flick, reaching their absolute zenith with the introduction of a person not playing a character but playing ‘himself’ about two thirds of the way through this (short) movie. I’m going to restrain myself from spoiling it, not because it matters or because it’s particularly good, but because it’s fucking bizarre. Still, I guess it’s amusing.
Columbus and Tallahassee team up, and it’s the usual hate-each-other-until-they-respect-each-other kind of crap. They cross paths with two con artist sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) who steal all their shit and whose paths they cross again and again. I wonder if they’ll all become friends?
There’s no percentage in this flick taking the premise seriously. These people are having a fun time with just the mild complaint of death lurking amusingly around every corner. Everywhere they go still has electricity, every vehicle has petrol, food and ammunition is abundant, and most of their motivations amount to longing for the comfort that only twinkies and theme parks can bring.
Is there a sly dig at American consumerism within the script, of the Western world’s craving and obsession with comfort, bland entertainment and refined sugars? I couldn’t say, really. I think those kinds of messages would be superfluous, considering they’re intentionally or unintentionally embedded in any flick, whether it’s a zombie one or not, no matter how much product placement there is.
The characters do some dumb things which exacerbate their situation many times, but it doesn’t cause you to hate the flick and the protagonists, because it’s the kind of easy going comedy where they need to do dumb things for the action to keep clicking along. So when someone dressed up as a zombie approaches a character with a double barrel shotgun to ‘surprise’ them, it doesn’t bug me as much something similar would in a film of the calibre of 28 Days Later, where it would feel like it actually matters. A character, an uninfected one at that, is accidentally killed, but its only significance is for a gag last line, about possible regrets.
The zombies are just a mindless ravenous horde, and the many and varied ways they are dispatched is the source of humour instead of horror, not as the last desperate act of people trying to retain the last scraps of their dignity or humanity, but as punchlines. Particularly superb is the church going lady who’d obviously watched a lot of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons growing up.
It’s entertaining enough. Harrelson overacts all over the place, but it’s the kind of flick where it’s warranted. Jesse Eisenberg is charming and likable in his nervy-klutzy way, but the way he worships Tallahassee is sweet. Most of the best lines are shared by these two odd couple rascals, whether it’s quoting Deliverance or Babe.
The girls really don’t matter that much to me. Wichita seems calculated to fulfil the “so what are the kids of today into? iPods and emo and Facebook, huh?” currency aspect, and Abigail Breslin, who’s still very short, could have been played by a midget in a Little Miss Sunshine wig, and it would hardly have mattered. Still, she’s a good actress, and her “Who’s Ghandi?” line made me piss myself.
The pointlessness of the story, and the silliness of some of what transpires is obviated by the fact that the flick is fun, quick and blessedly short. At 88 minutes, six of that for the end credits, including a post credits scene between Harrelson and the ‘famous’ cameo guy, the flick doesn’t stick around for long enough to irritate with its short comings. And as sick as I am of the “family is where you find it” moral at the end of the story wrap up, having it delivered by Jesse Eisenberg, who’s been so great in dramas like Roger Dodger and Squid and the Whale, made it all worthwhile. It was a wise decision to perch the flick precariously on those slender, geeky shoulders. Long may he nerdily reign.
Seeing him kill the zombie clown was pretty cool too. Who doesn’t hate those guys?
7 times this post-apocalyptic tale could not be more different from the abject misery and horror of The Road out of 10
“The first rule of Zombieland: Cardio. When the zombie outbreak first hit, the first to go, for obvious reasons... were the fatties.” - Zombieland