Movie Information

The Story: After a zombie plague, a group of mismatched survivors make their way through what remains of the world in search of a safe place. The Lowdown: A pretty funny zombie comedy that gets points for reveling in its gruesomeness, decent characterizations and clever touches along the way.
Genre: Nerd-Empowerment Zombie Comedy
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray
Rated: R

OK, I’ll admit it: I’m pretty much over the whole zombie thing—words I may regret considering the apparent spate of vampire pictures that are on the way, thanks to Twilight mania. Nonetheless, it’s true—and nothing about the trailer for newcomer Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland did anything to change that. The film itself, on the other hand, has a good deal to recommend it. I’m not as taken with it as some folks I know, but I liked it well enough—and occasionally found it to be inspired. That’s a lot more than I’d anticipated.

The setup is simplicity itself, since the world is pretty much given over to the munching dead at the time the story starts. All the movie needs to do is introduce its main character (Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland) and provide a scenario that causes him to hook up with the other characters that make up the human cast. The introduction is cleverly done, establishing our hero as the über-nerd—a tragically awkward young man with zero social skills, whose pre-zombie-plague world consisted of pizza, Code Red Mountain Dew and World of Warcraft. (Oh, you know him, too?) His notions of other people are sketchy. His notions of girls and romance are the far side of sketchy (something to do with a desire to brush their hair away from their ears …).

The one thing he’s good at is keeping from becoming lunch on legs—something he accomplishes through basic cowardice and a set of rules for survival. The rules (which appear as often cleverly superimposed titles) are in themselves a smart touch. Here, for once, we have someone in a horror movie who has actually seen horror movies and knows all the mistakes characters in them tend to make. If you’re wondering why the character has no name, that’s because he doesn’t get one until he meets up with a professional bad-ass zombie killer (Woody Harrelson), who has the basic rule of no attachments and insists on using apt geographical locations for names. Since the kid is heading for Columbus, Ohio, he becomes Columbus, while the zombie killer, who is heading for Tallahassee, Fla., adopts that city’s name. Soon they meet up with a couple of con-girls who become Wichita (Emma Stone, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).

The film then follows their adventures—and the girls’ constant bouts of duplicity—as they make their way to a supposedly zombie-free amusement park in L.A. A lot of it doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. For example, the movie never tackles the issue of why the electricity is still working or who is generating it. But most of the movie is funny—especially the Bill Murray sequence—in its splatstick way. Zombieland is admirable in that it totally embraces the gore (this is one splattery movie) and violence of its genre, and in the way that any sentiment that accrues along the way is earned. Not much happens that you wouldn’t expect, and the film seems oblivious to the actual humor of its notion that all an awkward nerd needs to score with a hot girl is a zombie apocalypse. Still, there’s no point in complaining, since the overall results are savvier and cheekier than not. Rated R for horror violence/gore and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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