Review: Zombieland (2009)
The producers of Zombieland were very pleased with the reception the film got in theaters. The problem they had was the amazingly strong reception the movie got on Bit Torrent. I’m going to ignore that second fact by noting that I plan on purchasing the DVD when it’s available on Amazon, so we’ll ignore exactly how I came across a copy for my return flight from Houston on Sunday.
This movie is fun. It’s no high art, but it has many of the elements that have made teen or buddy comedies a success and installed them in a quick and clever zombie genre adaptation.
The film succeeds mostly on the back of its excellent cast, the male half of which is amazingly typecast. Woody Harrelson plays zombie-killing bad-ass Tallahassee. He is pretty much drawn as a mix of his Mickey Knox from Natural Born Killers and Roy Munson from Kingpin. And it plays amazingly well. In a reflective scene, when asked by Columbus if he’s one of those guys who listens to a story and automatically has to one up it with one of his own, he says, “No, but I know a guy just like that.”
As Columbus, the sidekick, Jesse Eisenberg plays his patented neurotic, but oddly identifiable teen (think Michael Cera with less awkward quirks and more psychologist bills). He rocks this role out far more effectively than he did playing the exact same character in Adventureland. He’s a witty, believable if ironic survivor who serves also as the narrator of the movie.
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As the female love interest, Emma Stone‘s Wichita is very alluring in a ZooeyDeschannel -kind of way. She’s quirky, clever and hot without being insanely and untouchably good looking. Her interplay with her young, whippersnapper sister (played by Abigail Breslin) works well (making this, really, a double buddy movie). Breslin, in particular, is great both in providing a storyline motivator while filling the role of the snarky and smart preteen.
The brilliant cameo (which somehow has avoided being spoiled en masse on the internet) is just awesome. Very effective and funny. And I will say no more on that.
The movie lacks any real highbrow moments, but it does give traditional nods to certain common themes of the lonely pseudo orphans coming together and finding a home in each other, along with short dollops of love and reclaiming loss.
What made the movie interesting from a zombie genre perspective is that they actually provide a better explanation for zombies than most. 28 Days Later had the rage virus and I Am Legend had its amorphous virus, but most genre flicks ignore the science, despite a rise in technical theorizing on the subject thanks to the success of movies and books like World War Z and The Walking Dead graphic novel series. In Zombieland, a throwaway line explains that the condition is caused by a mutation of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (AKA mad cow) while jumping to humans when patient zero eats contaminated beef. Not saying the explanation is realistic in any regard, just that they at least gave the explanation.
[If you want a serious look at zombies from a scientific standpoint, take a look at the statistical analysis of zombie outbreaks done by some Canadian researchers. It doesn't look at the science of creating the walking dead, but on modeling an outbreak's spread based on genre stereotypes.]
Overall, the script ranks highly on the quotability factor. The actors clearly are having fun playing roles that are well within their range and the film makers keep things moving along. Most importantly, it’s a zombie flick that transcends the genre and is really more of a fun, adventure-comedy. People aren’t going to get grossed out or frightened. This is great, easy bubble gum fun with enough good comedy writing to keep things fresh.
Because I can’t give a non-film too high a grade (this is definitely a movie and doesn’t have any real art to it), I’m going to stick Zombieland with a very strong 8.5 out of 10.