Zombieland Brings Genre Back to Life
It’s tough to put out a genre film these days. When everything from vampire to unexpected pregnancy films have been completely played out, the only things that seem to get people riled up are the kinds of movies which can take familiar themes and twist them into something original and unrecognizable. As we find alien invaders becoming the subjects of 3-D childrens films, and the living dead taking over gushy teen-targeted romantic blockbusters, it’s about time Zombieland came in to play.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the zombie genre has been remixed into a comedy. 2004’s Shaun of the Dead has become a cult classic, spawning action figures and catapulting its actors, all from little-known U.K. sitcoms, to starring in Hollywood mass-productions. But where Shaun of the Dead was filled with genuine emotion and dry British humor, while directly parodying the zombie-horror genre, Zombieland is a badass, over-the-top American action-comedy designed purely for the sake of entertainment.
Jesse Eisenberg, the whiny wimp from The Squid and the Whale and more recently Adventureland, plays Columbus (all characters are referred to by their hometowns, not their names), an obsessive-compulsive college student wandering across the country in search of his estranged family, whom he hopes have been untouched by an epidemic that has turned everyone into zombies. On his journey, he runs into Tallahassee, a Twinkie-loving cowboy with a disturbing amount of zeal for destroying the undead, played by a pitch perfect Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, No Country for Old Men). The two are wildly incompatible, only kept together by a will to survive and similar travel needs, until they run into two con-woman sisters, Wichita and Little Rock, played by Emma Stone (Superbad) and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), who will do anything to get to a SoCal amusement park, so that they can finally have fun again.
First time feature-film director Ruben Fleischer does an excellent job making the film seem very current, using a heavily indied-out soundtrack and constantly dropping random pop-culture references. This is both a blessing and a curse, adding hipster sensibility, but also distracting from elements of the script that could have given it a little bit more feeling.
That being said, for a comedy and debut film, there are aspects of the movie that are extremely impressive. The sets are sprawling and apocalyptic, and the violence and fight scenes are perfectly orchestrated, from the opening slow-motion montage to the bombastic finale. But the best part of the movie is also the most surprising. It has been long-rumored that Bill Murray has a cameo in the film. I will go as far as to confirm this, but I can’t give any more details, except for it is so fantastic that it more than makes up for Garfield.
Zombieland is a stupid movie. It will never be immortalized in the fashion that Shaun of the Dead has, nor should it be. But if you’re looking for just a plain old fun time at the movies, I can’t possibly think of a better example. Plot is not the movie’s strong point, and neither is character. It’s the kind of film that knows it’s purpose, and steers clear of anything that could make it seem pretentious, instead going for low-brow and gross-out humor, which it succeeds enormously in. It indulges in an idea rarely seen in post-apocalyptic films, which is the idea of fun and freedom that could only be seen in a completely lawless society. And with Oscar season just around the corner, it’s nice to have something that takes a serious idea, and beats the shit out of it.