Every year, we are treated to some great films. It seems that every time there appears to be a lull in quality, we come across something so outstanding that we become absolutely sure it is, in some capacity, going to be nominated for an Oscar. These films are truly special. Zombieland is not one of those films. This is not a great movie that is expected to live up to some type of lofty expectation. This isn't something that will be remembered come awards season. You won't learn any life lesson or see very much filmmaking ingenuity, but boy is it fun. Sometimes it's just nice to see a good violent flick where zero thought is necessary. In this regard, Zombieland delivers.
The movie follows a group of people known only by the location they hail from. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is the protagonist of the story, a former college student who is making his way back to his hometown to see if his parents are still alive. He has been able to keep himself breathing because he has a host of rules that he strictly abides by, like "Always check the back seat" and "Double tap," which refers to putting that extra bullet in the zombie's brain to ensure he is dead. On his journey, he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a crazy, nothing-to-lose vigilante who takes an unsettling amount of pleasure in killing zombies. In a grocery store one day, they run into a team of sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are on their way to a theme park in California, which is said to be clear of all zombies.
Like most genre films, the reason behind the zombie outbreak is hardly explained. In Zombieland, it has something to do with a contaminated cheeseburger. Truth be told, it doesn't matter. I didn't sit down to watch Zombieland in the hopes of getting an in-depth story along with a social commentary similar to a Romero film. I sat down to laugh and have a good time and that is what happened. Therefore, there really isn't much of a story here, but rather a sequence of events involving different ways to kill zombies, including a great climax set at an amusement park where the characters utilize every ride imaginable to dispatch the zombies. It's appropriate because this movie is one hell of a ride.
Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is an Americanized version of Shaun of the Dead, because it is similar only in genre (and that movie far eclipses this one), it hits what we want most in a comedy/horror zombie flick. It is funny and the kills are bloody impressive (double entendres rule). It may lack the heart and soul of Shaun of the Dead, but it more than makes up for it with its ridiculous entertainment value. I enjoyed every second of Zombieland. Well, almost.
There is a ten minute stretch about a third of the way through that is neither funny nor particularly interesting. At this point in the movie, the zombies disappear and the character relationships begin. The theme of trust becomes the focus. Each group, the two guys and the two girls, turn on each other, then become friends again, then abandon each other, and so on. It tried to create a dynamic between the differing parties, but in a movie like this, who cares? Give us laughs, give us blood, and we're happy. Emotion need not apply.
From one land to another, Jesse Eisenberg plays what is essentially the same character he did in Adventureland, all the way down to his own insecurity about his virginity. In a way, he is like Michael Cera, never switching up his character from movie to movie. But also like Cera, that would be undermining his talent. He is great at what he does and is a likable hero, playing the always optimistic kid living in a world surrounded by chaos and destruction.
There is a brilliant cameo about halfway through Zombieland that many are comparing to NPH (Neil Patrick Harris for all you uncool kids out there) in the Harold & Kumar movies. Though I will not give it away, I would argue that this cameo is even better. The unexpected appearance by the mystery star is the funniest part of the movie and provides more belly laughs in his (or her) few brief scenes than the rest of the movie combined.
Most horror flicks suffer from an overabundance of violence, but this one should be violent, exploitatively so, and I'm happy to report that it is. What it all adds up to is an hour and 20 minutes of pure unadulterated fun. Though sequels can sometimes diminish the original by not living up to its quality, I absolutely demand one for Zombieland.
Zombieland receives 4/5