Imagine, if you will, America after the zombie apocalypse. The national infrastructure has collapsed, and few survivors dot the landscape. This is the vision of director Ruben Fleischer (The Girls Guitar Club and Gumball 3000, whatever those are), which is portrayed as what it is: derivative.
Amidst the expected flesh-eating chaos we find our hero, who we’ll call “Columbus,” since that seems to be where he’s headed, in hopes of finding his family. This is more than a little weird, since Columbus lives by an excellent set of survival rules, including “Double tap” (shoot ’em twice) and “Don’t be a hero,” but apparently not “Everyone you love wants to eat your brains.” Of course, that’s what Columbus is all about: contradiction. He’s a scrawny, whiny, yet somehow amiable hermit who’s trying to get the girl.
Columbus is a disenfranchised youth. He is, after all, Jesse Eisenberg. Before the end of life as we know it, he played a lot of World of Warcraft, drank Mountain Dew and dreamed of platitudinal romance. Now, of course, he avoids zombies day and night. His narrative of life in Zombieland is clever and a little endearing, full of one-liners and homages, including an unlikely reference to Max Brooks’ excellent book World War Z. On his way out of Texas in search of his probably undead parents, Columbus encounters Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a zombie killing machine in search of golden cream-filled sponge cakes.
The two intrepid adventures are soon thoroughly hornswoggled by a pair of self-concerned sisters called Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), the older of whom is an obvious target for platitudes with a Zooey Deschanel-like haircut and no morals reaching beyond an interest in delivering her kid sister to an amusement park.
Up till now, there have been zombies scattered throughout the film, and this grocery store encounter is no exception. Unfortunately, the next hour is pretty much devoid of undead. Fear not, dear readers. The slow-paced character development and scattered chuckles will eat your brain as effectively as any horde of shamblers.
There is a tremendously funny bit right in the middle, one which redeems the otherwise zombie-like pace of the film. I will not spoil
the moment for you, but I will say there’s an interesting tie-in to one of Columbus’ rules involving bathrooms. ‘Nuff said.
The soundtrack is good, if limited, and the special effects are passable, if largely uninspired. One expects a mass-market compromise
on both counts. As for acting, I can honestly report that there were no terrible moments, which is a welcome departure from the norm.
All the standard zombie movie errors are in place, but oddly not in an amusing way. Endless ammo clips, forgotten injuries and gun katas appear only as missed opportunities.
You may be getting the feeling that I didn’t care for Zombieland. Let me correct that impression by saying that the largely lackluster middle was bracketed by some great comedy, passable action and a few good splatters. Yes, the dearth of zombies through the middle was a disappointment. Yes, the plot plods relentlessly forward. Sure, the characters are cooked up out of a can. But after all, what can we expect from the spoof genre? Well, other than Shaun of the Dead.
Zombieland is probably a good pick for casual movie-goers, but falls short of anything really entertaining for horror fans. For the latter, I recommend throwing the 2003 Aussie Undead into your Netflix queue. All in all, though, Zombieland can be fun if you remember Columbus’s newest rule: “enjoy the little things.”
I give Zombieland 4 of 10 points.