Peter Jackson's 1992 classic Dead Alive (aka Brain Dead) set the template for the zombie comedy, and was perfected in 2004 with Edgar Wright's brilliant Shaun of The Dead. Can director Ruben Fleischer take the zombie comedy crown with Zombieland?
While an entertaining film with a lot of laughs, Zombieland is not going to replace Shaun of the Dead at the top of the zombie comedy genre. That's not a bad thing, though; Zombieland is quirky, gory, funny, and stylish. The opening credits are simply brilliant, a slo-motion sequence that sets the tone for the carnage — and laughs — to follow.
There isn't a lot to the plot, but that's to be expected when you're dealing with zombies. A virus has spread across the United States, turning the infected into gut-munching zombies.
We first meet Columbus (the wonderful Jesse Eisenberg, playing… well, Jesse Eisenberg, but that's not a bad thing), our narrator and guide through the zombie landscape that is now America. Columbus has survived being consumed alive by the undead with his 32 rules of survival (rule #1, cardio, to outrun the undead; rule #3, seat belts, for those moments when you smash your car into a zombie and don't want to be flung out the windshield; and so on). Columbus is trying to get home to… Columbus to check on his family (all the characters are named for the cities they live in).
Columbus soon encounters fellow survivor Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, also brilliant), a man with a knack for killing zombies and a real intense hankering for Twinkies. Of course, the highly-strung, neurotic Columbus and the whiskey-drinking, zombie survival rule-breaking Tallahassee do not initially get along, but that changes over the course of the film.
At a stop at a grocery store to look for, yes,Twinkies, the duo encounter Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone), sisters who immediately con Columbus and Tallahassee into handing over their weapons and vehicle; the two have been scamming their way across the country, but their real goal is to reach an amusement park in California that is supposedly free of zombies.
The group does eventually get back together and head off to California, with a stop in Hollywood in the third act to visit a certain celebrity. I'll not reveal the identity here (okay, it's Bill Murray). The Bill Murray segment is one of the funniest in the film, with a hilarious payoff involving Murray in zombie makeup and a quick-shooting Columbus, who doesn't know that Murray is actually alive.
The sisters do make it to the amusement park, which of course quickly becomes overrun with zombies, and it's up to Columbus and Tallahassee to save the day.
The film clocks in at a brisk 80 minutes, which suits the material fine, and allows for the blood, gore, and laughs to continue at a good pace.
At its heart, the film is really about the need for family and companionship; as Columbus remarks early in the film, he was a zombie before there were zombies.
There's a lot to like in Zombieland, from the excellent special effects and cinematography to the droll nerdiness of Jesse Eisenberg and the witty script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. A sequel seems likely, and it'll be a pleasure to spend time with these characters again.