I’ve got a short Zombieland review and a long Zombieland review. The short review: Go see Zombieland. Go tonight. Hell, go right now. Not convinced? Read on for the long review.
Zombie movies have a long, proud, history. It stretches from the shambling, not-so-scary zombies of Dawn of the Dead (1978), to the running, scary-as-f**k zombies of Dawn of the Dead (2004). Of course, it’s valid to look at the majority of zombie fare out there and say, “Not much variety here.” Zombieland is one of a few movies that have come along and helped mix things up.
The movie is set in – as Colombus calls it – the United States of Zombieland, after a zombie virus has killed off most of civilization. Colombus (Jesse Eisenberg) is heading to Colombus, Ohio (do you get the name now?) to find his family. Along the way he meets Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a badass country boy who takes his rage and frustration out on the movie’s hoards of undead. Eventually they come across sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who when they first meet take them for their car and supplies. Eventually they come together and head for Pacific Playland, a west coast amusement park which is still zombie-free.
I had been watching the movie for about five minutes before asking, “Is Jesse Eisenberg supposed to be playing Michael Cera?” Eisenberg as the stammering Colombus isn’t exactly mind-blowing, but watching him together with Woody Harrelson is comedy gold. The chemistry between the two characters almost makes the movie. And while Colombus’ relationship with bad girl Wichita is central to the character’s development, you’re always drawn back to his scenes with Tallahassee. And speaking of the cast, there’s a fantastic cameo in here that I won’t spoil for anyone. Let me just say that it’s probably one of the most brilliant things about the movie, and if Eisenberg and Harrelson weren’t doing enough for you, there’s no doubt this guy will.
The small glimpses we catch of the zombie apocalypse aren’t very realistic. We miss a lot of the large-scale destruction and zombie mobs, but it fits the movie fine. And there’s still plenty of violence and gore for those who are expecting it. But while other films may give you a sense of the trauma and destruction the world has gone through, that’s not what Zombieland is about. It’s about these four characters, their relationships with each other, and the things they do to help each other survive. They each build the group up, and rely on the group to do the same for them. The family dynamic between them is the most believable I’ve ever seen in a movie like this.
When you watch other zombie movies you realize that half, if not all, of the cast is there only to be killed off later on. You always find yourself asking, “Are they gonna survive?” That was never a question for me. Everyone is playing a bigger role here, and as a result, you find yourself caring about them more than characters from anything Romero ever did. Shaun of the Dead headed in this same direction, although I think Zombieland did a better job of pulling it off.
The movie’s runtime is a little short – it clocks in at just under 90 minutes – but I didn’t walk out feeling shortchanged. This is a little comedy that delivers in a big way. The movie’s outrageousness is presented so that you never feel like anything is over the top or cliched. You connect with the characters, and although the landscape is bleak, the movie leaves you feeling hopeful. And it’s the funniest damn thing I’ve seen all year. As for whether or not you should check this one out in the theaters, refer back to my short review.
And holy hell, that cameo was awesome.