10 October 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland


2009, 80mins, R
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer (s): Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese
Cast includes: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard
Release Date: 2nd October 2009

In the last few years Hollywood has deployed zombies as much for laughs as it has scares, motion pictures like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Fido” milking the brain dead flesh guzzlers for giggles rather than screams. As a result the tone behind “Zombieland” doesn’t exactly reek of freshness, making fun of zombies having now almost passed into a redundant state of blasé. However whilst I don’t want to see too much more of this undead themed goofballing, “Zombieland” is a success thanks to sharp writing and some acutely knowing comedic performances. Plus, it features one of the finest and most unexpected cameos yet committed to celluloid.

The film opens in the aftermath of an apocalypse with the vast majority of mankind having been turned into ravenous zombies. We’re immediately introduced to Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who is on the road to seek out his family, and who has survived the pandemic due to a list of rules that he adheres to at all times. These include staying fit in order to outrun the monsters and in the event of shooting one, always put two bullets in the skull just to be sure. He eventually encounters a redneck zombie slaying maniac named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the pair reluctantly but speedily forming an alliance as they move through the country looking for survivors. Columbus is intent on getting home to see his parents whilst Tallahassee is interested primarily in butchering the newly undead and more specifically in finding the last Twinkies on Earth. The pair then meets two sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who have their own goals and agenda, leaving all four to embark on a crazy road trip through “Zombieland”.

From a narrative viewpoint the monsters in “Zombieland” are largely an unseen threat, large portions of the film unfolding on the road without any creature interference. Newbie director Ruben Fleischer interjects every so often by throwing up a cannonball of action based craziness to liven up the picture on a physical level, though for me the movie is at its most rewarding when the dialogue flows freely and the actors are allowed to work out and exploit each others impressive comic grooves. The obvious film that cult fanatics will want a comparison with is “Shaun of the Dead”, a benchmark I’m not certain this effort ever meets, yet that’s not to say “Zombieland” isn’t an aggressively entertaining film. Fleischer knows his audience and panders to them beautifully, everything from the gore fuelled slapstick to the choice of cameo marking him out as an assured and well versed leader for the project.

Jesse Eisenberg is the closest thing to a hero the film provides the 26 year old having to both act and narrate at a rigorous level. His performance is sound with a dry wit and delivery akin to Michael Cera, and the shared sequences with Harrelson are a true delight. I was fond of Eisenberg’s efforts here but it’s Harrelson who steals the show and delivers his best performance in some time with “Zombieland”, attacking the script and viciously clawing out laughs thanks to his energetic and wonderfully judged vision of redneck zombie slaying. Together he and Eisenberg work well, batting around the screenplay with supreme comic authority and a keen sense of cartoon havoc. Emma Stone is a nice addition as a love interest, though Abigail Breslin is wasted in such a consistently undemanding role. Amber Heard also appears in a brief sequence playing a zombified sex kitten. She’s easy on the eyes, but the part lets her exhibit little else of her performing abilities.

The writing is well crafted and the jokes and jibes maintain a low key hilarity, “Zombieland” has a wicked sense of humour that should be of equal appeal to both genre diehards and casual moviegoers. The film never operates as a parody or as an overly referential slice of pop culture, its pleasures coming courtesy of more appealing assets such as brilliantly composed dialogue and mayhem filled moments of Zombie vs. Human carnage. At a lean 80 minutes it’s hard to see alot of fault with the way “Zombieland” has been made, short, satisfying and extremely to the point seemingly the way that Fleischer wanted to take things. It’s possible to go and see “Zombieland” and not sacrifice an entire afternoon or evening in the process, the move hurtling at an admirable speed and collecting a rich tapestry of laughs along the way. Also whilst I don’t want to spoil anything I need to draw reference to a cameo appearance from a renowned American actor, it’s surprising, impossible to miss and scores big time in the laugh department.

Most of the movies $24 million budget would appear to have gone on the desolate landscapes and gore effects, the finish manages to infuse some scope but overall this is a movie shot on a pretty small scale. I liked “Zombieland” a good deal and whilst it’s a cut below 2009’s very best offerings I was still mightily impressed with Fleischer’s directorial debut, combing guffaws and yuks with a neat touch that Sam Raimi could be proud of. I have no burning desire to see anymore zombie filled comedies, but given the overexposure of the concept I was surprised just how relentlessly fun and enjoyable “Zombieland” manages to be.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


Anonymous said...

Zombieland is hilarious and Woody is a perfect match

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