Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Road Trip With Zombies - Zombieland

Zombieland (2009)

Midnight Run with zombies.” That’s how director Ruben Fleischer described his directorial debut. And since Midnight Run is one of those overlooked classics, and a favorite 'round these parts, I stuck my thumb out and hitched a ride.

I’m very glad I did.

There’s a virus on the loose (I sort of prefer it when they don’t explain the zombie phenomenon too much) and it makes people all pustular and dripping and hankering to take a bite outta the nearest warm-blooded person. Usually, that’s you.

Set not too long after the zombie apocalypse has started, we follow “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg) as he hooks up with “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson bringing some huge laughs). Everyone seems to go by where they grew up. Columbus is trying to get back home to Columbus, Ohio even though he wasn’t very close to his dysfunctional family. Tallahassee, having lost the only thing that mattered to him (a puppy he tells Columbus), is on a quest to find a certain Hostess snack food. He tells his young traveling companion that now more than ever it’s the little things in life that are precious.

Along the way they meet two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, respectively). Well, “meet” isn’t the right word: “conned and swindled out of their guns and truck” is the right word.

The two parties meet up again and decide to stop pointing guns at each other and travel together. Wichita wants to take Little Rock to Pacific Playland amusement park. It was a happy memory from their childhood, and with the world gone to crap, Wichita wants to make her little sister happy, if only for a while. Besides, they’d heard the Playland is “zombie free.”

As they make like the Griswolds on their way to Wallyworld, our fantastic foursome stops at the Los Angeles mansion of someone near and dear to Tallahassee’s twisted, sugar-craving heart. I won’t reveal who it is, but it is a masterstroke of casting (how they nabbed him, I will never know) and a very, very funny sequence. It’s nice to see this actor sort of loosen up.

This is a heck of an entertaining movie, right up there with Shaun of the Dead and The Return of the Living Dead. Say, isn’t it funny how the funniest horror movies all feature zombies? They say vampires are sexy. Well, zombies are a hoot. Not only are the dialogue and situations funny, but they have fun with on-screen graphics as well, often posting one of Columbus’s “Rules for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse,” such as "Rule No. 1 Cardio" as we see a fat guy running for his life but being overtaken and eaten by a zombie.

As in all good movies, the characters are the heart of the story. I’d forgotten how much fun Woody Harrelson can be, and in this movie he is awesome. I’d want him on my side in a zombie apocalypse. Jesse Eisenberg, who was terrific in the indie gem Rodger Dodger, is like an older Michael Cera; he’s smart and nerdy and funny. Emma Stone holds her own as big sister Wichita. I enjoyed her work in Superbad and The House Bunny. She’s sweet and sexy and can shoot a shotgun like a dude. Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock seems to be the least developed character, which is no reflection on her. She’s spunky without being obnoxious and there is a fun scene when the four of them have been traveling in the car for a while and she tries to explain Hannah Montana to Tallahassee. For a 12 year old, she also wields a shotgun with aplomb.

The original idea for Zombieland was as a television series, according to writers/Exec. Producers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. While that might have been fun, I’m glad they went the big screen route with this cast. I would love to see a couple more adventures with this group, provided they can keep the quality and the laughs intact.

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