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Zombieland: Nut Up or Shut Up

October 21, 2009

It’s a typical love story: boy meets girl, girl ditches boy, boy ultimately faces his fears and saves girl from hoards of mindless, flesh-eating zombies. This is, at it’s heart, the premise of Ruben Fleischer’s latest film, Zombieland. Though Fleischer’s first major film, Zombieland is a thoroughly enjoyable 81 minutes of brain-eating fun.

From the opening credits, one immediately understands the kind of gory, classic, B-movie camp to be witnessed over the next hour and a half. The zombies basically salivate blood, the intestines they consume are a cross between balloons and roast beef, and the monsters’ heads explode like a watermelon, moments after an M-80 firecracker has been stuffed inside. In fact, the gory effects are, as is often the case with zombie flicks, half of the entertainment. The creative fashion in which the living dead are repeatedly removed allows for Z-land’s special effects team to employ some top notch tricks that make the audience audibly cringe. The “zombie kill of the week” utilizing a piano is a perfect example.

Yet, beneath the flesh-rotted exterior, there are many aspects which lead to audience enjoyment, even if the zombies were non-existent. The on-screen chemistry of the four main characters elevates Zombieland from a classic gorefest to a classic gorefest with heart. Hollywood veteran Woody Harrelson leads the cast as a believably ridiculous father figure with an attitude. Little Miss Sunshine herself, Abigail Breslin, is surprisingly powerful in her opening scene and appears completely at home on the screen. Emma Stone, of Superbad and The House Bunny fame, and Jesse Eisenberg, who appeared in The Emperor’s Club and Adventureland, both hold their own with these two A-listers and create an adorable couple who you route for when the going gets tough.

Perhaps my two largest criticisms of the film was the writing and one specific aspect of the directing. As many of you know, today’s adolescent “IT” boy is Michael Cera. He’s been in Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Arrested Development, and many other great projects; but he’s not in this film. At least, he’s not there in body. It appears as if Eisenberg was directed towards acting in what can best be described as a “Cerian” manner. The charming awkwardness, the semi-confused line delivery, all of the things Michael Cera is known for, came out in Jesse Eisenberg. Did Fleischer not have enough money to get Cera, so instead he got an actor who could pretend to be the fantasy casting pick? To his credit, Eisenberg does a spot on job with what was a directing decision that gave no respect to Eisenberg as an actor in his own right.

Apart from this mis-direction, the plot left quite a bit lacking. If taken at face value, as a funny, but bare-bones script with no deep emotional moments, then it does fine. It serves it’s purpose as a vehicle to thrash some zombies and have some laughs. Apart from that, however, there are dozens of disappointing gaps; to the degree that it almost detracts from the film as a whole. The zombie outbreak is barely explained (“mad cow disease became mad people disease became mad zombie disease”) and the background of the characters is glossed over at best. In fact, many moments that could have been quite powerful were glossed over, perhaps because they weren’t funny enough. A heart-wrenching realization about Woody Harrelson’s character is played down, even though it is one of the most honest moments in the film.

Zombieland is either “amazing” or “horrible” depending on what you enter the theater expecting. If you want a zombie gore fest a la 28 Days, then you will be sorely disappointed. There is no real horror in this film, and the zombies are the creatures who are the prey, not the humans. If, however, you are expecting a campy zombie flick in the tradition of Shaun of the Dead or Army of Darkness, then this is the perfect Halloween-time treat. I entered the theater with absolutely no expectations, knowing only that this was a film with Woody Harrelson and a bunch of zombies. Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised, and for me that’s saying quite a bit. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, zombie-bashing comedy that is simply a good-time movie with no deeper meaning. I believe my initial one-word response once the credits rolled was: “Cute”. And of course, I mean that in as much as a flesh-chewing, blood-drenched, zombie-stomping comedy can be “cute”.

Acting: B

Writing: C+/B-

Overall: B

On the star scale: 4 out of 5

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Marti permalink
    October 21, 2009 9:10 am

    I don’t know, man… I feel like that’s just Eisenberg’s acting style. Did you see Adventureland? He was just as bumbling and spasmodic in that. So it might have been a conscious directing style, but I’m not so sure…

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